The earliest reference to "coach marks" (in the context of software UI) appears to be the following patent, filed in 1993:

Are there any earlier references, or uses of the term?

  • 1
    I assume the origin is literal: Coaches drawing marks on paper to explain plays to their players.
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 21:52
  • Ok that's fair enough to say. What I should have asked is "What is the origin of the term 'coach marks' in the context of software UI?" ...have modified the question now.
    – David
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 21:54
  • That's a good edit. I really haven't heard the term much in use prior to mobile apps, so that '93 might very well be the first use in the context of software UI. But interesting to find out if anyone knows of an earlier instance.
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 22:26
  • Yes, it's sometimes interesting how ideas often come out that are a bit "ahead of their time"... and only become mainstream years later, with the right associated technology.
    – David
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 22:29

1 Answer 1


The idea that we might refer to as "pop-up" or "context-sensitive" help today seemed to pre-date "coach marks" by about seven years:

So, it seems that an Apple Patent (referring to Coach Marks) was enabled by an (at the time) seven year old IBM patent concerning something like pop-up help.

I confess to not having been programming at that time, but I'm guessing that the whole idea of having a little window of help next to what you were doing was pretty groovy at the time... and it took a while to catch on and lead to something more advanced like on the fly coaching.

  • I'm not sure I'd call contextual help ala pop-ups the same thing as coach marks, though. To me 'coach marks' are an overlay directly on the UI itself pointing to specific items, whereas contextual help is about accessing help, but not having it applied directly on the UI (rather in a side window/pop-up).
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 2:51
  • 1
    That's right... No, I only meant that one advancement enabled the other, not equaled.
    – David
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 at 3:22

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