Every software, product, application is used at some point by a beginner, a first timer. Beginners don’t stay beginners for a long time. It’s only a temporary state and a good product should shorten the time a user spends as beginner.
A product has to accommodate the needs of beginners alongside the needs of intermediate and expert users and it has to facilitate a quick progress from beginner status to intermediate.
In my previous post about intermediates we saw that most users tend to gravitate toward the center of the so called bell curve. That means that most users are at an intermediate level of experience. They stay beginners for a short period then move on to intermediate or drop out completely and move on to find another product that suits them better. Being a beginner is frustrating and the design should help people understand and use a product within a short amount of time.
So how do you help a beginner to progress?
- Although incompetent, beginners are intelligent and usually busy. They need some kind of instruction, but not very much and it has to be rapid and targeted.
- Give your beginners a good understanding of why things work as they do (cause and effect). Try to align the represented model to the mental model of the user. This will provide understanding without forcing the user to understand the implementation model.
- Whatever extra help you provide, remember that it will get in the users way as soon as he/she becomes an intermediate. Therefore the help shouldn’t be fixed in the interface but it should know how to go away once it’s not needed anymore.
- The help shouldn’t be annoying (for sure you remember Clippy) but stick to relevant information.
- Communicate overview, purpose and scope for example within dialog boxes.
- Beginners need overview information such as guided tours (instead of reference help).
- Stay focused on beginner’s issues such as naming functions and avoid more complex subjects.
- Beginners rely on menus so make them as explanatory as possible.
For the rest just keep in mind the rules of good interface design. Use recognition over recall, give an easy exit, allow errors to happen and give possibility for easy recovery.
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