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We are developing a business application for our client. The client wants to have context / embedded help related to each and every field and section header on the existing form. The form is quite complex already, contains a lot of controls, sections, icons etc - the mockup below is just a small fragment of it. The form (and the left menu which is not pictured here) take the entire screen estate. As far as embedded help is concerned - a typically recommended approach is to place a small "?" icon next to each field / section where help is available. I tried to crudely simulate this and (as expected) I ended up with a rather cluttered form.

enter image description here There are also other factors that I need to take into consideration:

  1. The space to the right of each field is already reserved for inline error markers (as presented under the top-right section). Adding the "?" next to each field would consume said space and the icons would need to be smaller (poor targets) or cover one another (bad design) in case an error marker and help icon were to be displayed next to each other.
  2. The help's content can be quite long, so hints / short call out messages will not work very well here.
  3. While the form is mainly desktop + mouse oriented, we need to have a passable usability on touch devices, which rules out "on hover" events to a certain extent.
  4. Novice users will undergo internal training what each field is form. Experienced users will invoke the help rather rarely. So the expectation is that the help will not be used extensively. It will rather be used to refresh users' memory.

Taking the above into consideration we came up with a solution where in order to obtain the help user needs to click the field's (or section's) label, following which a modal window with help text shows up.

However, I think that clicking on fields' / sections' labels to obtain help info is not ideal and was wondering if there might be better solutions which would be non-obtrusive graphically but relatively obvious for end users? Or shall we just stick to clicking on labels?

If possible we would like to keep the help in context of the form. We have already considered and discarded the following alternatives: inline help, help in hints/call outs, separate help panel displayed on the form.

Thanks.

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  • Ok, thanks for all your feedback. I have searched some more on the help subject, and it seems that "help on this form" would be the best course of action here.
    – Odie
    Aug 24 '15 at 9:14
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You definitely cannot have the help come up when a user clicks on the label. That action is supposed to be reserved for activating the relevant input. This is a usability issue and is expected behavior for most users and applications.

Why not simply have an out-of-the-way help option on the form? It could either bring up its own modal with descriptions of the sections, or even activate an extra function where users can click around on the form and get extra information.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

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  • Liked the out of the way helped option. I want to piggy ride on this one. Below is my answer Aug 19 '15 at 22:14
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Give each section its help like Help with this Section. So atleast some context remains section wise.

When the user clicks on Help with this Section that sections contextual help data opens in a modal window with the form in the background. Ideally it will be better if the user sees the form all the time in the background for easy access so that he or she can quickly get back to the form.

A prominent close button on top right and a Esc Shortcut to close the window will help.

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If the client is asking for help, then that's the cue to start talking about why they need help in the first place.

One important thing to figure out first is if users truly need help. Often contextual help is simply a 'business requirement' with no real reasoning behind it other than that's how it was built the last time.

If it's decided assistance of some sort is needed, is there any way to then figure out how to handle it on-screen? Instead of a two paragraph contextual pop-up help message, can one-sentence be added to the label itself and accomplish the same goal?

If neither of those help remedy the situation, I have to go with what the other's said...just put help at the section level. Adding it at the field level is just tedious and clutters the UI to the point where it's possibly a detriment.

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