UX, Help, and Moments of Truth: A Conversation with Jimmy Breck-McKye

This is the first of two posts based on a comversation with Jimmy Breck-McKye, a thoughtful user experience designer based in London.  You can read more of his thoughts on designing user experiences at breck-mckye.com.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Jimmy Breck-McKye, a User Experience designer for Rightmove.co.uk.

You also consider yourself a technical writer, isn’t that right?

Ultimately, user help is just one of many elements of user experience design.  The practices and tools are different but the approaches are much the same.

I can see how the goals are very similar – in both cases you want to help the user feel comfortable with accomplishing the task at hand.

Not just that: Both UX and technical writing are really about manipulating user behaviour for the sake of business goals. Actually, that makes it sound rather sinister, doesn’t it?  But I don’t see technical writing as purely about providing instructions. I see it as an opportunity to encourage certain kinds of action and communicate the value of a product.

Does that mean your preferred form of technical writing is closer to a guide, or a manual, than it is to a FAQ or forum?

Well, I’ve always preferred to choose deliverables on a project-by-project basis. But I do think that when guides and manuals are distributed, their design needs to be aligned with other marketing and branding activities. Paper manuals are often one of the customer’s first ‘moments of truth’ about a product, after all.

What’s a moment of truth?

It’s kind of the customer’s first impression about a service or product.  It’s the time the customer first sees whether their expectations are realized. It’s not something you want to blow.

So it’s the step after the marketing and the promises, where the customer forms an opinion of the product as delivered?

Yes. It could be as simple as opening a product’s physical packaging, or their first interaction with customer support.  For consumer products with paper documentation, it could be pulling the manual out of the box. If that document is poorly printed, with cheap paper and bad typesetting, it’s going to cheapen the experience.  Even if the user never reads that manual in the first place.

Speaking of, how much do you think users read the help, manuals, etc that companies provide for their products?

It probably depends on the user’s confidence. We know from observing users’ reactions to text in forms that people either skip the lot or read it to the last letter. I’d expect something similar to hold true for paper documentation.

That being said, a lot of help does a bad job of communicating their value. Video help is amongst the worst.

Why is video help so bad?

Because users can’t easily see what information a video will give them until they’ve actually watched it. Users are notoriously reluctant to invest time upfront, so the result is that confident users frequently reject videos in favour of scan-able text.  (Read more of Jimmy’s thoughts on video help here).

You can read of our conversation at Better Help Experiences: A Conversation with Jimmy Breck-McKye.