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  • Writer's pictureantoniodellomo

User assistance and on-line help

We all experience problems using computer systems. Good design of the system and system image will reduce the number of problems that users experience. However, proving information so that users can learn to use the system effectively, correct their errors and find other kinds of functionality is an important part of the design of many systems. Remember, poor user assistance is enough to kill your UX, therefore your business.

Nowadays online help has (nearly) replaced live customer support. Before its availability, support could only be given through printed documentation, mail, or telephone, but there were a lot of downsides such as long response times, waits, and the costs of the operations resulted to be expensive. Today users can get to a solution by themselves, saving time and money for themselves and the company. More companies have increased the bar for customer service, allowing customers to connect with them nearly immediately through live chat, social media, and even text messaging, as well as the good old standard email and phone support.

But we all know the reality, making a phone call requires sitting on hold interrupting workflow, or other on-going tasks. Today's world does not grasp terms such as slow and still.

Live chat

Quickly is becoming the most effective way of user assistance online. Live chat offers the highest customer satisfaction rate with 71% as compared with 44% for phone support and 61% for email support, according to an Econsultancy survey.

This method is convenient for users because they can get more personal and quicker support without costs when compared with emails or phone calls and for the companies because they can save time and money. When offered a proper communication channel, customers are more likely to become loyal customers.

For any business to succeed and make customers feel that they’re being heard and are important for your business, communication is key!

User assistance

In textbooks, such as On-Line Help Systems, by Kearsley (1988) and HCI: Concepts And Design by Jenny Preece (1994), typical users' questions are oriented to goal exploration, definition, and description, task achievement, diagnosis, state identification. Help systems are weakest when users are unable to conceptualize their questions.

"Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors." - Jakob Nielsen

One of the most popular sets of principles for interaction design used to evaluate a system is Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics. The ninth focuses on the principles of Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors. Good designs should aim to prevent errors from ever occurring in the first place, but sometimes this goal just isn’t realistic. To best meet the needs of users, designs must also provide ways for users to overcome any errors they encounter when interacting with the system. This can be achieved in three different ways.


Inform users of errors so they can recognize they made one.


The system should diagnose the error using simple language, avoiding using code or jargon when describing the problem to the user.


Designs need to help users recover from errors by providing actionable ways to fix them. The users should be given clear directions on how to recover from the error in a detailed and constructive way.


Usability over aesthetics is one of the most popular UX mantras and, in this case, there are no better ways to summarize the article. Designing a computer system is no easy matter. Computer systems are complex entities, and designers have to deal with numerous people, sources of information, tools, and techniques but a concept like usability has to be a must always. Proving information, help users to recover from their errors, and/or help them find other kinds of functionality is a crucial component when designing computer systems. I wanted to bring the "Live Chats" example because today is probably the most powerful way of user assistance online but there are plenty of other methods as powerful and efficient. As a rule of thumb, poor user assistance will damage your company. Always keep in mind the mantras.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash


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