Obviousness vs. Tutorials

John Gruber on the lock screen camera access for iOS 5.1:

To invoke the button, you must slide it upwards rather than simply tap it, for the same reason you must slide the unlock button rather than simply tap it: to avoid inadvertent invocation while the phone is in your pocket or purse. But if you do just tap on it, which is an obvious thing to try, you get a clever hint: the lock screen playfully jumps and bounces, suggesting visually that you can slide it upward.

This is exactly what Shawn and I were talking about on the latest B&B podcast. We were trying to figure out how apps like Paper and Clear can teach the users how to use those very apps, given their general lack of “normal” UI controls (like buttons).

I never even thought about how clever that little jump that iOS does is, but reading this post showed me one step that developers can take to reduce confusion.

I imagine, for instance, on an app like paper: when a user pauses after drawing the tips of the brushes would ever so slightly slide up from the bottom. This of course would only occur on the first dozen or so launches of the app — thus training the user where the tools are and then eventually the tips disappearing from the app and this getting out of the users way.

I personally don’t think tutorial splash screens, or even tutorials as a function of the app like with Clear, are the way forward. They are simply too cumbersome and too easily forgotten — they are inelegant solutions to a very real, and common, problem.

Not everything can work in an obvious way when you are trying to rid the UI of buttons, but many things can easily be learned. Looking through my favorite apps on the iPad, it’s clear to me that they are also the apps with the least amount of buttons.

For all the trouble that gesture based interaction causes with learning curves, this statement from Gruber seems off the mark to me:

That’s why I like the analogy that gestures are to iOS what keyboard shortcuts are to Mac OS — an alternative way to do something as a convenience for advanced users. The default, true way to do things should be visual.

I very much believe that gestures are the ‘true’ way to do things on iOS. Buttons are just the step ladder, the transitional tool, that is being used to get users familiar with the common gestures. Gestures, however, are still not perfect and present a very real problem — but a problem no more complex than the mouse and pointer presented when first being adopted.

It was no easy task to teach users to point and click on things — let alone right click — and as Gruber states single and double clicks are still an issue for many Windows users. We did, as a society, overcome the non-obvious nature of ‘click-able’ UI elements and so to shall we overcome the non-obvious nature of touch-based gestures. It just takes some time, we’ve only given it a year and even then only now are these UI-less apps really starting to appear.

Originally posted for members on: April 5, 2012
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