First time user experience: Don’t make me think, still!

Posted 2017-01-05 09:00

By offering a free trial to decision makers, you give first-time users a chance to experience your product and related services. First-time users can only get these benefits if they know how to implement your product and service. That is where your in-app guidance such as your knowledge base and walkthroughs come in.

They expect to have a smooth experience and to fly through with ease and delight. The truth is, first-time users are often under enormous pressure. They expect to ‘learn on the job’ where previous generations received classroom training. The guidance you offer them can be a lifeline to help them understand your product and gain the benefits of your service more quickly.

Software today

Don’t make me think

Interaction design has changed since Steve Krug authored “Don’t make me think!” in 2000. However, the “first law of usability” hasn’t changed. When Krug said functionality should be self-evident, the websites he was writing about in 2000 were mainly informational. The software was still distributed on CDs and rolled out with training.

Since then, expectations around what people can do with software have completely changed, particularly when software moved into the browser. Whereas managers once expected to roll out business process software with classroom training, now they expect their teams to be able to learn on-the-job. People expect SaaS software, in particular, to be entirely self-service and easy to learn.

Software users today can't neccessarily bring prior experience with them when they learn something new. Most of our customers are delivering SaaS software where users have to learn complex processes which are quite different from anything they have done before. For example, eToro users learn a completely new way to invest. So eToro uses Inline Manual to help guide them through the practical and conceptual aspects of being successful with these new tools.

Guiding the first time user experience

Every user of any service has a first-time user experience (FTUE).

First-time users need to know three things:

  • Where am I?
  • What can I do?
  • Where can I go?

Much of the art of software design is making the possibilities apparent and easy to use in the user interface. You relay this information through the UI elements such as buttons, navigation, the calls to action, and microcopy. And then you expect users to be able to parse this information in the UI. That is, without you necessarily knowing anything about the user’s prior experience or their goals.

What happens when users delve into your application and find that there are about 30 different things they can do; and that they can go in as many directions? Instead, you can help users identify their goals and give them help without getting in their way.

Focus on goals with action words

Address the three main concerns of first-time users by offering goal-based product tours which show users how to complete a task.

  • Where am I? Let users start from where they are. Offer relevant guidance in-context.
  • What can I do? Make sure each topic focuses on one task. Show users to get something done while learning.
  • Where can I go? Guide users step by step to where they need to go next.

An easy way to make sure you're focusing on tasks is to start with an action verb. Sometimes when you add -ing to verbs they read as nouns or adjectives, and they also sound unclear and passive. Instead of titling a topic "Creating a new product" use "Create a new product," or instead of "Meeting Room Booking" use "Book a meeting room." This makes it more clear what action the user will take when they initate the walkthrough.

When you’re planning the steps in your goal-based walkthrough, tour or task, make sure you’re helping users discover a distinct benefit, or that it leads them to an outcome. A user should be able to see a direct result or change after completing one topic.

Cut down tasks by focusing on goals

We advise our customers to use goal-based content which is brief and clear. Rather than offering a 30 step tour of your entire interface, break it down. Instead, try to offer not one thirty step walkthrough but three product walkthroughs which guide users through distinct tasks and outcomes for each.

Identify which practical activities are the most common.

  • Which key tasks show the biggest impact for first-time users?
  • Which tasks get users creating something new with your application?
  • Which tasks get users to engage colleagues through sharing, inviting users, demoing/publishing/testing?
  • What is the least number of steps in which a user can complete this task?

Cut down steps to build confidence

Reduce the number of steps in any walkthrough, and be as brief as possible. Fewer steps will give users a feeling of moving through the application confidently, guided by your advice. By being brief, you build trust that any task can be completed quickly.

At the start of your product tours, you may have orientation steps which are needed. For example, guiding users to navigate to a section. Instead, redirect users to a different starting area when they initiate a tutorial and remind them where they can access this in the navigation.

You can also reduce the numbers of clicks users need to make. Use triggers such as ‘hover’ instead of click to respond to user interaction.

You may find there are steps which pop up in multiple walkthroughs. Break those out into a different task. For example, your last few steps may be common to multiple tasks, such as publishing. Instead, break that out into a ‘finishing’ task instead.

Learn more

Users still expect a ‘Don’t make me think’ experience. However, they are expected to complete far more complex tasks on their own than ever before. The demands of their ever-changing roles and the software landscape add to the pressure on them. In turn, they expect your software to be easy to learn and smooth.

In this post, we’ve highlighted some ways you can improve the first time experience with guidance, and keep it brief and focused.

You have to decide what is right for your users and their needs. Think about the people you’re serving and their needs, and how you’re helping them.

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