Solicited & Sought Content (the peanut butter and jelly of integrated assistance)


This is Day 5 of 30 Days of Integrated Assistance.

This is the third part of my discussion on Solicited and
Sought Content. We went through Solicited Content (remember Clippy? now forget
and Sought Content (RTFM – read the fascinating manual). Now we’ll look at
both types of content together.

Can’t we all just get

I’ve seen designs that rely only on Sought Content, where
users search for content (such as a Help file or online library of content like
MSDN). That’s most designs. The software is incredibly difficult to use, and
you have to go wade through content to find your answers. Often I just get
frustrated and give up. Or I might go to a Web search (like Bing) and search
there instead of the Help. Trying to find the answer to a simple question (Where
is the x feature? Or How do I use x?) can turn into a quest.

But I’ve also seen designs that rely on Solicited Content.
For some reason, the designers think they’ve built the world’s first
application (or game) that’s so easy to use that no one will even ask how to
use it. This is quite possibly an even more frustrating experience for users,
because they have questions and no answers. Sometimes their question is just, “What
can I do?”

It’s hard to find
what you’re not looking for

On top of the difficulty of finding the right content, you
obviously won’t look for it if you don’t know it exists. The only exception is
if you read through the manual and learn how to do everything.

That’s where solicited content comes in. We can explain to
the user what they need to know but don’t know they need to know, you know? We
just need to do it in a way that doesn’t make them want to smash their

For more information, read Solicited Content (remember
Clippy? now forget him)

We can’t assume we
made the perfect design

The flip side is that we solicit some content, but we never
provide exhaustive Help content. Our users expect a Help button. If they can’t
find one, then it’s a poor user experience (they are let down or frustrated),
because they know they can’t fully use the product if they don’t understand how
to use it.

One example I’ve given is Microsoft Surface. We assumed we
made a design that was perfectly simple and natural (and it was). But our field
research studies showed that many users were looking for that Help button, and
when they couldn’t find it, they were frustrated.

This seems to be decently common. Designers and developers
think their software is easy to use simply because they’ve learned how to use
it. But we need to find out what our users think, especially the ones who haven’t
used it previously.

Even if a design is perfect, we need Sought Content. Our
users need to be able to find all about what they’re using and they need to
know how to get to that content.

For more information, read Sought Content (RTFM – read the
fascinating manual)

Let’s look at Super
Meat Boy

Another example is the Xbox Live game, Super Meat Boy. In
the game, you play the Meat Boy. You run around and jump and basically try not
to get splattered by lots of sharp blades and walls. Let’s face it, you’re meat.

The game is hard, super hard. And when I first played the
game I knew something was missing. None of the buttons seemed to do anything
except the A button, which made Meat Boy jump. I couldn’t get past a mountain
of sharp metal, and I knew I was missing something.

So I said to myself, “Where’s the manual? I’ve got to be
able to hang on ceilings, super jump (like Mario in SMB2), float (like Princess
in SMB2 or Kirby in SSB), or double-jump (also common in SSB) or something.”
This being a digital age, I immediately pressed pause. And there was a Help
option. Then I think I went through a few page options (went to the wrong page
first), and at my second try I arrived at a page that explained the buttons.
Sure enough, there wasn’t much I could do in the game. But then I noticed that
RT (Right Trigger) gives me super speed!

Finally, something new to try! So apparently it also gives
me super jump speed, even if I’m standing still or sliding down a wall (whilst
leaving my never-ending supply of meat juice behind). I was finally able to
clear the mountain of sharp metal and I eventually got to that Bandage Girl.

Regardless, the point this is a VERY simple game (only two
buttons do anything), and even after already trying the RT button and looking
for a solution frantically, I couldn’t look for something when I didn’t know
what I was looking for. All I knew was that there was a bit of information out
there about how I could clear that mountain of metal, and I was missing it.

They could have provided that information in a solicited
way. They could have told me sooner (they might as well have, since there are
only two buttons to talk about). But thankfully, they provided it in a sought
way, so that I could find it if I was looking for it, and I was.

Comment below or tweet me to discuss Solicited and Sought Content.

May we all find the balance between providing Solicited and
Sought Content,

- User Ed

This is Day 5 of 30 Days of Integrated Assistance.


Comments (1)

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