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I'm looking for studies (at worst anecdotal evidence) on using "tutorials" to explain an interface on first visit.

There's a (modified) joke, "Explaining UI is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process."

I agree. A good UI shouldn't need explaining. That's what makes it good.

But I also believe that there is a point, where the UI is complex enough that no matter how good the UI is, it will need explaining.

To give a more concrete example, we are discussing a user interface for doctors. It is akin to a scatter plot. Each point has some important information attached to it, but it is hidden. The most intuitive option (for a tech familiar person) is clicking on points to bring up attached information. But we think that our audience will not figure it out.

The team is of the opinion that we should chose a different way to bring up the information. I think that by always "catering" to our audience, we end up decreasing the quality of our UI.

So now I'm looking for information on user interface tutorials, to see if they are beneficial (and when) or detrimental.

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The process of getting someone to use your website / application is called user onboarding, it includes everything from sign up onwards. User onboarding almost always includes some sort of tutorial to explain some of the intricacies of the UI.

useronboard.com has lots of walk-throughs of user onboarding on different websites. You should get some ideas of what is working and what isn't. I tried to find some research on the subject but didn't

Personally I like what Zurb calls a joyride (joyriding?) on their Foundation framework.

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