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My application provides some functionality that might not be recognized intuitively.

E.g

There is a section where one could mark blocks of data by CTRL+Click while a single Click would redirect to the blocks detailed view.

How should I inform the user of that feature?

I can think of 3 different ways:

Tooltip

When the block is hovered, show a tooltip that tells the user how he could.

The pro arguments for that can also be considered negative: The information will show up only when the user intends to work with the block of data. If he does not hover the container but wants to mark the block, he won't know how to do that

Infobox

A static message is displayed in one of the corners

This means no one could not know how to mark the block. Yet, one or another user may be annoyed by the box, so it has to be detachable

(The other way round, I could hide the box under a question-mark. But will everyone notice?)

Tutorial

When the user signs in first, a walkthrough is displayed, explaining the basic navigation in the application. This might be forgettable, though.


The above is just an example. There are other issues floating around, where I could not simply implement a workaround but have to choose an option of how to inform the user.

Note that this is an enterprise application and I may or may not know who works with the application and it is possible that more than one human being works with the same account.

  • Your last sentence is an audit nightmare. Set up all users (maybe even potential users) with their own account and you can store preferences easily too. – Andrew Leach May 22 '14 at 7:22
  • @AndrewLeach Unfortunately, that's not in my capabilities. The customer may assign another one of his employees to the task of using the application and I wouldn't even notice – Wottensprels May 22 '14 at 7:24
  • You can't stop people sharing details, but that should certainly be heartily discouraged. One way of discouraging it is to save preferences in the account, so that if they are altered it affects all users of that account. – Andrew Leach May 22 '14 at 7:27
  • I agree with you. Yet, even if I tell the customer to not do this, nothing will prevent him from doing so anyways. That's exactly where my problem lies. We came across this issue from time to time with other, minor applications. – Wottensprels May 22 '14 at 7:28
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You can use a check box type thing to mark the data block, and single click to move the user to block details.

  • Of yourse, I could do that. Maybe it would be the best option for the above example. Nevertheless, the question applies to more issues in the application, often where a workaround could not be implemented so easily. – Wottensprels May 22 '14 at 7:37
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Shortcut keys are the domain of more experienced users who know the system and like to get things done as fast as possible. Your problem as I see it boils down to "How do I help a user get from beginner to advanced?"

The problem is that people don't look for new features and new ways of doing things, they just stagnate.

Whatever the underlying biology, it's an empirical fact — based on 3 decades of research — that users are narrowly focused on the present. What's in front of them is all they know. What they're doing right now is all that matters.

People don't read manuals. People don't go exploring all over the user interface in search of neat features. People don't investigate whether there's a better way of doing something once they’ve learned an approach that works.

What I would suggest is to have some kind of tooltip sized popup appear near the mouse if the user is on the page / screen for a while (in a way that suggests they might be looking for something), and haven't already been using the keyboard shortcuts in this session.

The prompt should be noticeable (near the mouse pointer should do this, otherwise use movement / animation to get the user's attention) but at the same time unobtrusive (i.e. it should go away on its own and shouldn't become annoying).

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