A customer recently inquired to have new items highlighted on a faq list (as shown below) within a pdf. Typically faq questions are listed using a bold font weight. However the customer has stressed the importance of the new faq questions and that they need some sort of highlight so user and distinguish new questions form older questions.

What is the best approach when calling attention to new questions added to an faq page?


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The only user who cares whether a question is "new" is one who has previously visited the FAQ page, already read the "old" ones, and is now returning to the page for whatever reason.

For all other users, the relative age of each item on the page is completely irrelevant: they only care about the content itself, not when it was added.

If the new questions are more important, then by all means highlight them -- but do so based on their importance and relevance, not their age. Entries that relate to significant newly updated or changed functionality would probably qualify for special treatment; entries that are simply newly written may not.

(It seems fairly likely that the only user who visits that FAQ page frequently enough to fit that first category is your customer, the guy who wrote the new answers. That argument definitely won't fly with the customer though. Instead consider pointing to your user metrics: it'll be much more convincing if you can go through old logs and demonstrate that e.g. 0.00n% of users ever re-read the FAQ more than X days after onboarding. Or, hey, maybe you'll surprise us both and discover that it is a large enough fraction of users to justify this. Either way, hard data is never a bad thing...)

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  • Agreed. Re: first paragraph, if the user is logged in then record when they've read each item and stop marking it as new (i.e. like an email app that tracks read/unread states). If there's no login, then consider localStorage or a cookie so it's at least preserved on that device. Record the state of each item individually if it's possible to derive that information. – craigpatik Sep 6 '16 at 15:56
  • @craigpatik I suspect that most users rarely re-visit a FAQ page in the first place, which would mean that sort of customized tracking would be overkill. But if logged user data demonstrates that I'm wrong about that (and the FAQ itself contains enough entries to make it worth while), your suggestion would certainly be a nice touch, yeah. – Daniel Beck Sep 6 '16 at 16:18
  • I do not agree. We're missing two basic points: 1) an user already asked for this feature. At this point there may be room for a discussion if it's a valuable feature for other users but if that user has to be satisfied (it depends on her importance) then to say "you should not" is not an answer to OP question. Also we don't know if OP has even freedom to discuss this requirement. 2) Second and most important point: OP has not to do it on-line but for a PDF file. – Adriano Repetti Sep 6 '16 at 20:10
  • Re 'user already asked for this feature': part of the role of the UX designer is to translate individual user requests into functionality that best serves all the users -- if individual user requests were always the right thing to do, they wouldn't need to hire us! Sometimes, indeed, that means saying "you should not do this." That is not what I suggested here, though: I suggested basing the highlighting on the relative importance of the items, which may or may not correlate to their age. – Daniel Beck Sep 6 '16 at 22:17
  • Re PDF file: I don't see how this is relevant. PDF would preclude any interactive elements such as those suggested by @craigpatik above, but the other considerations discussed in my answer would apply equally to a PDF as to an HTML page. – Daniel Beck Sep 6 '16 at 22:18

A user has one or more specific questions and wants to find answers as quick as possible. How does the design help their task?

Why are the new questions so important (e.g. something that changed, updated policy)? If it's only a new question just as the other questions, marking them as new would probably not make sense (or at least not in a way that they deserve this level of emphasize). For instance, new kinds of workshops should be promoted somewhere else on the website.

If it's something really important (for legal reasons, or updated policies etc), I would emphasize them but not as being 'new questions', more like an 'important update'.

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  • It depends. Who is the customer? Do you write this product just for him? Is him an important customer? Why he needs those questions highlighted? You mayhave hard-time to tell him "OK, you want new questions highlighted but - trust me - that's not really important, you do not really need it, instead I will highlight what I think are important ones..." – Adriano Repetti Sep 6 '16 at 13:28

As others have already mentioned, the highlights would not be appropriate for new readers. The best approach would be to send a notice to the parties who require this new information. When a Terms of Service or Privacy Policy is updated it is customary for a company to message affected users with a notice.

If identifying and communicating these persons would be possible I would consider this approach in lieu of highlighting recent changes.

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Important: here I am not discussing if this is a valuable feature or not, there are too many unknown factors that will simply drive this discussion to a valueless pub chat. I simply assume OP must implement this requirement because an user requires it and someone else (let's say Product Owner/Manager/Specialist) asked him to do it. I'd also like to point out that it may be an optional feature, enabled on demand...

Second important point is that he has not to deal with this on his on-line site but in a PDF file. This is then an UX question in a broad sense, it belongs to typography (with the set of conventions already in use in that field).

In your example you used highlighter together with an uppercase NEW! text; IMO it may convey too much attention to newer questions (for all the other users). Which more subtle and elegant alternatives you have?

  • Highlighter: you can de-emphasize New! text reducing highlighter opacity. I usually keep highlighter at 20/40% for finished documents (unless it's a TODO marker).
  • Text linked note: it has the same visual appearance of highlighter but you can add some text. It may be useful (if PDF is not for printing) to add additional information (when it has been added, for example). I'd include title inside this comment to make it visible in Comments list pane. If you reduce opacity to 0% you get only a small icon nearby marked text.
  • Bookmarks: if you don't already use them for chapters then they may work as quick index to find new FAQ entries without adding any noise to document text. Again this works only if PDF is not for printing.

Note that all above methods have one advantage: opening PDF with Acrobat Reader (or your favorite PDF viewer) you also have an index of such elements, quick and easy to scan.

If you agree with your customer you may also use a mark - commonly used in typography for this purpose - like a manicule , an asterism (or a misused dagger ) to visually distinguish new questions without adding too much noise. Increasing indicator font size may also help.

When will the workshop be offered?
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If you use a dagger I'd also add an end-note to your document to do not confuse who knows what a dagger is used for (but I'd add a note also to explain what any other symbol means):

† This FAQ entry is new in release 1.0.2

In this way you may also keep a reference of latest added entries:

† This FAQ entry is new in release 1.0.2
‡ This FAQ entry is new in release 1.0.1

It's not part of your question but for on-line viewing you may use a subtle background color and I'd also consider to introduce custom sorting.

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