Category Archives: Signposting

Tool tips – When should design explain itself?

My Hacksaw and Stapler basking on the lawn

Should a hacksaw or staple gun need a manual?

Mine have permanently moulded instructions to help get the most out of using them.

Handy hints built into my stapler

This hacksaw pre-dates the internet by 20 years, but look at all those tool tips!

This sort of thing has become commonplace in the digital world too. Hover your cursor over any button or tool  and you’ll see prompts, tips, guidance, explanation etc. as you explore and use websites, software and devices.

Tool tips could help you find this remote New Zealand surf spot

Whether you’re using software or a saw and need that extra ‘tool tip’ …you’re generally alone, doing your own thing … so what about when you’re around other people… Can we learn by watching others?, does the ‘how to’ of using things travel by osmosis in a social or group situation? or, in other words – do people become the tool tips?

In the physical world, it seems this is true, as I noticed on a Sydney train recently.

These Sydney train seats can be switched to face either direction

You could argue the train seats should have a ‘tool tip’ to show that they can be reversed, but there’s also something satisfying about discovering it for yourself, or through watching others.

…My latest UX research project is for a multi-user ‘touch table’ designed for an exhibition space. The content is navigated by individuals and groups with a similar emphasis on ‘discovering’ how to interact with the environment, rather than being signposted at every step.

Often things in the physical world help explain user behaviour in the digital world and I’m thinking this train seat scenario might be a good analogy… but despite how much more natural it feels to be facing forward when getting from A-B, few passengers actually do change the seating around…

So, I wonder…

  1. Would a visual cue take the satisfaction away for the few to improve travelling for the many?
  2. Do people suffer performance anxiety the first time they try to move the seat? (I waited until I had an empty carriage)
  3. Are those ‘in the know’ motivated to share what they’ve learned, or do they keep it to themselves?
  4. Are we more likely to make these ‘discoveries’ in the physical or digital world?
  5. Is it possible to move through a digital journey facing backwards?
  6. Is it more valuable to discover a feature by serendipity, or to learn by observation of others?

I’d like to hear of other scenarios where people learn how to interact with a product or service purely by watching others…

…Do you know of any?