Not Necessarily a Paradox: Designing for Novice Users & Empowering Advanced Users
This post brought to you by a talented colleague of mine at IDV, Christopher Abraham…
Way back in 2000, Jakob Neilsen wrote a blog (before we even called them blogs) on the differences between Novice and Expert Users, and the swinging pendulum of design that seems to oscillate between ease-of-use for casual or novice users and a “power” interface for those super-users. Neilsen footnotes his blog with reference back to earlier research by John M. Carroll and Mary Beth Rosson on “The Paradox of the Active User;” which basically says that users almost always dive into an interface head first to solve an immediate task, without expending any effort to understand the overall system or to read documentation or even to follow an overview.
The truth is design a “use-full” interface for power users that has the simplicity and intuitive grace that novice users need is a real challenge. Tools that will baffle a new user may be crucial to everyday tasks for the expert. Graduated navigation or helpful prompts that lead your casual users through unfamiliar tasks tend to pose time-consuming hurdles for an advanced user that just want the “whatsit” to process the “thingamabob.”
· Part of the answer to this design challenge is layering data retrieval in ever-deeper views of detail (see Digging Data the IDV Way, previously in this blog);
· Part of the answer is in giving users options – in the Visual Fusion Map Viewer component, you can zoom in and out at least three different ways (and the method least obvious to the novice user but most useful to a power user is that wonderful mouse scroll-wheel!);
· Part of the answer is continuously soliciting and (really?!?) listening to user feedback.
Recently, in a large visualization project for a large Global 1000 company, IDV worked out a very useful little shortcut key combination to allow for selecting a country in our Map Viewer without actually having a vector object of the country there to catch the click event. We configured a key-combination that allowed a user to hold the control key down while clicking the land mass. We gave the user a visual cue when the ctrl key was depressed to show them what mode they were in. It all worked quite elegantly – until the customer’s test users complained that they didn’t have a good way to “know” about that key combination. Where could a novice user (short of cracking open the documentation) ever find that nifty little shortcut?
The solution was to provide a toggle in our options menu that let a newer user discover the country-select tool as an “always on” option. And very shortly after making this minor find, nearly every user “found” the better, more “power user” way – and never looked back.
IDV doesn’t ever approach the User Interface as an either/or proposition between ease of use and expert usefulness. It may present a bigger challenge, but in the end you can find a way to unravel the paradox and serve all your users equally well.