SXSW Day One – Kathy Sierra Opening Remarks

Went out to lunch with Erik and two of his friends from Austin – ended up coming back too late to actually be in the room live watching Kathy Sierra‘s Opening Remarks.

Listen to the podcast audio of the session  and you’ll get most of what she’s talking about, though you’ll have to imagine the faces of frustration, anguish, and WTF that she used to illustrate those points.

There’s also some video available in quicktime (640×480) or  MPEG-4 (320×240) over at the Video Blog. (Haven’t looked yet to see if this is complete or just samples – I would assume samples).

She makes an excellent point – that application help is fundamentally not helping users, and that what we need sometimes is a WFT! button.

I’m not sure, though, how useful such a button could be. There’s an excercise in absurdity to be had in how far back you potentially go – what if the user isn’t even in the right application, and they are hitting your WTF button for someone else’s app?

Definitely we all want to focus on helping users not suck, and not feel like they can’t use applications we develop, but until computers start interpreting actual physical gestures, tone of voice, and facial expression (which one imagines is only a matter of time, albeit perhaps a long time), the WTF! button seems like just another hack which might marginally improve things.

Perhaps the real, and most powerful message, is just to check the assumptions about help copy, FAQs, and the like. They assume way too much familiarity with terminology used by the system, get too co-opted by marketing as an opportunity to sell, and very rarely provide any meaningful assistance to the user in the process of using the app.

Writing “help” content like real human beings – the way we’d actually say it to someone sitting across the table – rather than in some bizarre, depersonalized, corporate speak – would go a long way toward making help more user-friendly.