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We are building a Teacher app that has many functionalities and we want to add in-app help. Something interactive, contextual or otherwise.

Which sort of in-app help should I use?

Here is the app, you can check the screenshots or download it for free http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/teacherpal/id389584618?mt=8

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Could you include a screenshot of your current help system instead and explain the relevant points? It'd be helpful if people didn't have to download your app. It would also help a lot to know what you're offering help ON, is it something short I could read once, right away and "get it" or is it complex so that I need to repeatedly access it in small chunks? –  Ben Brocka Apr 7 '12 at 18:39
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3 Answers 3

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Interesting question but perhaps not suitable as there is not one right answer.

Contextual to the control

You invented a concept with many new controls, like a button that looks like a door or a painting. It looks great and may be great to use when learnt, but unlike standard gui controls, it is not obvious what is clickable, dragable, openable, editable, and so on. So users will have to analyze each and every one of them, trying to figure out how it functions. This is what you want to help them with.

As @Benny Skogberg suggests, a contextual help is needed. I would like to point out that the context here is not only each screen as a whole but the controls themselves.

Example

In Google's iPhone app they have a contextual help question mark button:

  1. It opens an overlay help-board, where each control had a question mark button on top of it.
  2. Clicking a control help board each control has its own contextual help text.

enter image description here

I think this is what your app needs.

Maintenance

I implemented this myself for an RIA a year ago. It is quite easy to make a system where you just specify the coordinates for buttons and texts, for each control. Now, a year later, the design has changed so much that it has to be redone. So if you do it, make sure to schedule time in the end of every release to adjust this overlay.

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I like this approach but as you mentioned its kind of headache as design constantly changes. I agree there is no "BEST" but is the Google approach widely accepted as a good approach, I mean in terms of UX experts, or is it considered many taps or so.. –  Amr Elsehemy Apr 7 '12 at 17:33
    
I think this is widely accepted. I'm no expert but the number of taps or so is just perfect. Something that is NOT a good approach is offering a large text about everything at once. Users rarely read that. Regarding headache/maintenance: If you are not releasing yet, dont make it perfect from the start. You could get the system in place, without adding texts, coordinates and so on, until the release is feature complete. –  JOG Apr 7 '12 at 18:25
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The best practice is always up for discussion, so I'll try to give you a good practice.

Contextual help is what is frequently used today on any system. This means we provide help to the user in the current state of the application. If the user is on the schedule screen, the application can provide help on the scheduling process if the user clicks on the help icon, like a question mark.

Using this technique you can omitt the help section altogether, and only provide help where the the user needs it.

One last thing... Try to develop the application in such a way that help isn't necessary. Where it's not possible, provide contextual help.

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Well, this kind of the dilemma, trying to build an innovative app but not changing the standard feel, I used the recommended icons and shapes, mostly like Pages, Numbers and other Apple apps, but still people ask (for me) obvious questions –  Amr Elsehemy Apr 7 '12 at 17:38
    
@AmrElsehemy Read your last sentence now... then continue here. These are obvious questions to you since you have spent 40+ hours developing the application - and this is where user experience comes in. Your target users have never used your app, and that's why they need guidance. When you download a more sophisticated app, you might need help too. Am I right? Test the app on real new users and see where they have trouble - and fix it. –  Benny Skogberg Apr 7 '12 at 18:40
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I am currently working on ways to include in-app help too and I found these articles really helpful as they give an overview of several design patterns along with considerations,pros and cons.

http://www.inspireux.com/2011/02/07/top-6-help-design-patterns-for-iphone-apps/ http://www.uxbooth.com/articles/mobile-design-patterns/

Based on the context and the kind of issues you want to tackle, you can use any of the specified design patterns but just a heads-up, help is not meant to compensate for poor screen designs and should be used judiciously!

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