My team will be deploying a piece of software to users who may be illiterate and computer illiterate, and ten to twenty users will likely share the same computer, account, and copy of the software. We want to auto play an instructional video each time they go to a different feature, as the user might not know to click the help button if they have not seen the video. How can we do this without being intrusive to users who have already seen the videos or are literate and or computer literate?

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    How often is each user going to use the software? Is it a daily repetitive task, or something they might use every few months?
    – TScott
    Jun 27, 2016 at 20:43
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    How illiterate are we talking? Very bad reading skills? Doesn't speak this particular language? Can only read numbers? Can they understand basic abstract symbols like X ! ? Jun 27, 2016 at 21:30
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    I expect users to understand basic symbols, have limited reading ability, and use the software once or twice a week.
    – user383
    Jun 28, 2016 at 2:12
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    I believe using symbolism from the real world would be a great advantage. Colors too would be highly significant of actions. Such as Green to Start and Bright Red to Stop. Additionally to this, the Help can simply be a question mark. You could also observe the user's actions on the page and learn if it's a new user or an existing one and accordingly help them. Machine Learning is a good way to go about this. Jun 28, 2016 at 6:34
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    I would also recommend adding a few more examples for context in your question above, probably screenshots so that we have a clearer idea of what exactly you need and how we could help you with it. Jun 28, 2016 at 6:34

1 Answer 1


I'm sorry to say that you're in a Clippy situation.

"It looks like you're writing a letter"—Clippy

You can dodge some of the Windows '95 vibe by cutting to the chase, doing away with the avatar, showing a really simple X to close, and making sure that this help NEVER blocks the interface.

I would do the following:

  1. Follow Clippy's lead for the first step. Try to detect what the user is trying to do. I'm not sure what that means for your user. Maybe you can prompt users as soon as there's any activity, detect frustration with lots of typos or a big wiggle of the mouse or not typing for a long time. That seems like the hardest part. Do some user testing to find where your pain points are, and then try to detect what you measured. But be careful. Clippy got things wrong often, and that's why people hated him.

  2. Make the prompt small, with the video already playing, and with the sound muted. In the video itself, make a title card that's big enough to read when it's shrunken. This is becoming popular on news media sites lately, and I think it's an effective way to show your video content without being pushy. If you're worried about literacy, use animation to convey the message. Playing the video automatically gives the user a chance to preview what they're getting themselves into. You might think that transport controls aren't important at such a small size, but definitely include a tiny timeline and a countdown to show how long the video is.

tiny box

  1. If the user clicks the video, unmute it, rewind it to the start, make it bigger, and show the user full transport controls.

close up

As I wrote above, user testing will tell you the most about what will work and what wont. Good luck!

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