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I'm designing a page which has a side help drawer for users. I.e. the users click on the 'help' text on the right hand side, and a drawer flies in from the right. The page is long so the 'help' drawer is accessible as the users scrolls down the page.

During our user testing, we've found that users are blindsided by the right hand side of the page. They are focused only on the centre of the page and do not see this help which is available for them.

The client has asked that the drawer 'judder' down the page as the users scroll so they notice it. Instinctively, I know this is wrong and will annoy users, but can't find any argument to say this and recommend what to do instead apart from make it more apparent in the design. Any advice appreciated.

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I'm curious to know how users find and click the Help text on the right-hand side and then don't notice the result fly out from the right-hand side. –  Andrew Leach Feb 4 at 18:00
    
Have you used other visual attributes? Animation works really well like having it open by default and closing as the page loads. But really, color is often enough to help users find an element on a page because it is a retinal variable that is selective and associative. Using a specific color for the help tab that is different than all the others on the page helps it stand out. Do you have a screenshot? –  Mark Sloan Feb 4 at 18:38
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4 Answers 4

I would recommend you not have the flyout menu on either side of the page.

What you could do is move it to the header or footer area and modify it such that it's like a sticky banner similar to how Vimeo does it.


Vimeo example of hidden banner with [More Videos] link:


More Videos


Vimeo example of visible banner with [Hide Videos] link:


Hide Videos


If you wanted it to always be on the page without having to scroll, you'd simply implement the above and whichever place you put it, header or footer, you make it a fixed bar. That way the Hide and Show links are always available to be clicked.

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I agree with Nadyne, if you don't have arguments to back up your gut feeling, you should test it with users and gather data to build up your case.

But...

Nielsen and Norman Group have this article showing that users acquire banner blindness, meaning that you learn to ignore some parts of an application that don't provide meaningful information.

Of course, this learning is not application-specific, meaning that people will learn to ignore certain patterns, independently of the application they are using. This means that sometime your application can provide significant information and users may be dismissing because they learned that for the most part of applications they use, having a drawer showing up on the right-hand side does not have important information.

So you can argue that even if the drawer 'judder' down the page, users may have learned to ignore that (specially because those patterns are used in sites with dubious content, and you always want to avoid clicking on the banners they present). Again, you can't know until you test it.

Another thing I've observed in usability tests, even though I don't have data to back this up, is that most users don't use the documentation if it's not in front of them. I've seen several people struggling for more than 10 minutes to complete a task, even when they saw a link and understood it would display reference documentation that might help them, and they choose to ignore it. I'm still thinking about this, but at the end of the day I think users will try to learn by trial and error, ask a friend and do some other stuff before trying to find documentation.

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I think that the reason that people ignore the reference documentation even when they see it is for the reason that you've already identified: they've learned to ignore things that don't provide meaningful information. Product documentation has, for better or for worse, gotten a bad reputation. Users choose not to use the help, and instead rely on searching or asking others, because they perceive the help to be of poor quality. –  nadyne Feb 6 at 18:43
    
Agree with @nadyne. I've done several usability tests with windows users, and I haven't seen anyone press F1 to get help. I think people learn that pressing F1 will take lots of time to load and don't display any useful information. –  jff Feb 7 at 8:00
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If you can't find anything to prove your point, then it's time to go out and collect data to see if your gut feeling is correct. Create a mockup of the design with the suggestion and do some more user testing. If you come up with other ideas (different colors, animating the help page in and out once on initial load, etc), you can do user testing of them too. You can structure the user testing as a RITE study to start with the client's suggestion. If the client's suggestion isn't accepted by users, you can update the prototype to try other alternatives (different colors, animating the help page in and out once on initial load, etc) during the course of the study.

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I think unwanted help can quickly become a nuisance and negatively affect the user experience (think Clippy/MS Word).

Is the fact that people didn't see the help based on the fact that they didn't need it?

A solution might be to try and place help in a closer proximity to the content the user is interacting with. Think Progressive Disclosure, allowing the user to display the desired amount of help based on what they need.

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