September 17, 2009

Speaking the Customer's Language

Small bit of background: I recently got (more) into digital photography and have been having a fun time dreaming of buying fancy-schmancy camera lenses. So I was checking out Sigma's web site and saw they have an "advisor tool". I clicked it and was presented with this:

This tool is of absolutely no use to me. Why? Because I don't think in terms of "Lens technology" or even "Weight". I think in terms of "I want to take awesome pictures of bands at concerts without having to wander through the mosh pit." or "I want to take awesome pictures of friends at house parties where I'm typically like 3-4 feet from my subject". Those are the first things I think about. Not whether I want "APO" or "DG" (whatever the heck those mean) technology, or whether my lens needs 7 or 12 groups, or even weight. Weight's definitely a factor, but that only helps me filter down my choices. It's not where I want to start out.

Here's my thought: pro/advanced customers will not use this advisor because they already know what lens they want to buy; they can just Google it to find more info, a review, or a price. They think in terms of "Okay, I need a lens that hits 200mm at f5.6." They don't need a wizard for that; they've got Google or their local photography store. And if they did need a advisor for that (to find out what Sigma offers in those categories), this one certainly won't do the trick.
The advisor's geared more towards beginners and semi-beginners like me who don't even know what's out there to match their needs, and we certainly aren't experts at terminologies like focal length and aperture size. And if that's the case, then this wizard doesn't speak our language, which means using it will frustrate me, and I'm more likely to try my hand at discussion forums or asking a friend, any of which might lead me away from Sigma.

I had a similar camera-related issue a few weeks ago. Setup: I know there's some camera-flash mode out there where you can fire the flash at the endof an exposure, rather than at the beginning. I have heard this is called "rear-curtain sync". I looked through my Canon Rebel XSi's manual for this term but did not find it, so I assumed that the built-in flash does not have this capability.

Wrong. It does. It turns out that Canon calls this capability "second-curtain sync". Why? No idea; perhaps they want to be distinct from Nikon and/or other camera manufacturers. But since I didn't know how Canon thought of it, I didn't know what terms to search for. So I didn't find the information I was looking for. Maybe this is beneficial to Canon because they can sell upgrades (Speedlite add-ons) easier if customers think their built-in flash doesn't perform as well. I really hope that's not the case, but you never know :-)

This issue comes into play in documentation. You have to think like a user and talk like them also. If you do that, search hits will come up and index entries will be informative, and users will find the information that they're looking for. And that's what we all want :-) This is especially true of topic headings, which are displayed more prominently in topics. That's why I named this topic the way I did. I called it "Specifying the State in a Region that Executes First" because I imagined that would be the question the user has in their mind: "I have a state in a region; now how do I make sure that this state executes first?"

I could have called it "Using the Initial Pseudostate" and been done with it. But who the heck knows, out of the box, what an Initial pseudostate is? (Outside of the development team, I mean.) I feel that because I used a task-based heading, users are more able to find the information they're looking for. It's not always easy and it doesn't always work, but I feel that results in higher-quality documentation and a more positive experience for customers.
What products or help files have you run across that speak your language?


  1. I was curious and looked at the site. It seems there is a small, but significant <-help icon at the top right of the lens technology frame. This has the explanation for each acronym.

    I'm not trying to say that you are the problem, but rather that the consistency of user interfaces is critical. I think this is why some people are more comfortable with the Mac vs. Windows. The experience is more predictable and consistent. That's why LabVIEW users scream loudly each time the palettes change (that would be ME!)

    As for the web, it will probably always be the wild west with respect to UI design.

    I was my high school's main photographer and remember dreams of owning a Hasselblad or Mamiya. Things have changed so much; I miss the smell of developing fluid and the dim red glow of the dark room.

    Happy shooting!