Designing for the Unknown: Information Seeking for the Ignorant User
I’m currently in the process of redesigning a client’s help portal, and had the opportunity to meet with one of the company’s implementation specialists for feedback on the client journey. Implementation teams are some of my very favorite folks to work with - I’m always inspired to take action after hearing their unique and powerful insights into the customer, especially customer struggles.
“I would say one of the biggest issues with our help site, especially for new users, is that the user doesn’t know what they don’t know, so they can’t search for it. Additionally, they might only know the result of an action they want to take, but don’t know the term or feature name to look for,” she said.
In her excellent article Four Modes of Seeking Information and How to Design for Them, information architect Donna Spencer addresses this very issue. (I highly recommend any UX or UI designer read the article in its entirety!)
You’ve likely experienced this issue first hand many times. Perhaps a friend told you about an excellent book on a new method of workflow improvement, but you cannot remember the author or term. Where would you even begin to look? Perhaps you’d do a general search on workflow improvement books, or a top 20 list that might narrow it down. Of course, the easiest thing to do would be to text your friend, but users of websites and help systems don’t have the luxury of texting developers, and you wouldn’t want them to (after all, deflection is what it’s all about, right?).
So how can you address this information issue? Ms. Spencer offers three excellent suggestions:
Clear site navigation
Related item links
Since the user doesn’t know what they need to know, it is is critical that there are always avenues for exploration - you don’t want the site user to reach a dead end and become frustrated.
For my help portal project, we implemented the three solutions above as well as a user journey page (clearly noted in the top navigation) which guides users on a learning path specific to their role. In doing so, we were forced to think about the information which was critical to a user’s success in a way that was approachable, understandable, and relevant. It was here that the implementation team was able to offer amazing insight which guided our wire-framing and content strategy.
Have you addressed this problem in one of your projects? What was your solution?