Thursday, September 13, 2012

Seriously, enough with FAQs

I have plenty of problems with the assumption that every product needs help, because it lends to an assumption that any gaps can be filled by RTFM. So, it's okay to have crappy gaps in your design.

But there's one flavor of tediously overdone help document that is demonstrably terrible, the FAQ.

I have sat in usability tests and seen the participants hate on it for the same reasons you might if you stop to think about it. And these aren't friends & family. These were middle aged housewives and retired auto mechanics. What you might call "normal people."

The short version is, they are as cynical and not-gullible as you. Here's a good one:

How can they be "Freqently Asked" if the site just launched? Who is asking these questions?

If it helps, consider it a skeuomorphic interaction. Something that pretends to be real (we pick the top questions people ask, in their own words, and then answer them) but is 100% made up, almost all the time.

Everyone knows this. In one test, the dead last thing the users wanted to do was look at a list of FAQs at all. They were totally expecting it to be marketing BS (I believe I heard terms about like that) and never went there except as a last resort. The moderator had to cajole a lot to get to this key part of the test.

Where they all went (appx) "Yup, what I expected. Nothing useful but sales info here."

So, checklist for help documentation:

  1. You don't need it. If you can design your product to work well, and not need help documents, do that. It can be done. Try it.
  2. If you have to have help documentation, make it useful. Think about what problems people might have, and write those in there. Use plain language even if legal adds on fine print to the end of everything.
  3. Keep it up to date. The concept of the frequently-asked part is fine. Ask customer care (or whatever you have, like forums and blog responses) what the issues are, and aside from fixing in the interface, address them in help.
  4. Never, ever, ever call your help documentation Frequently Asked Questions. Don't organize them as question and answer strings. Just provide the help, please, with no gimmicks.

No comments: