[Part 1 explains and demonstrates factors that affect how quickly people can learn to use interactive systems.]
WE LEARN FASTER WHEN VOCABULARY IS TASK-FOCUSED, FAMILIAR, AND CONSISTENT
Ensuring that an application, Web service, or appliance exposes a small, consistent, and task-appropriate set of concepts to its users is a big first step, but it is not enough to minimize the time it takes for people to learn an interactive system. You also have to make sure that the vocabulary - what concepts are called - fits the task, is familiar, and is consistent.
Terminology should be task-focused
Just as the user-visible concepts in an interactive system should be task-focused, so should the names for the concepts. Usually, task-focused terms for concepts emerge from the interviews and observations of users that designers conduct as part of the task analysis. Occasionally, software needs to expose a concept that is new to users; the challenge for a designer is keeping such concepts and their names focused on the task, not on the technology.
Some examples of interactive software systems using terminology that is not task focused:
- A company developed a desktop software application for performing investment transactions. The application let users create and save templates for common transactions. It gave users the option of saving templates either on their own PC or on a network server. Templates stored on the PC were private. Templates stored on the server were accessible to other people. The developers used the term "database" for templates on the server because they were kept in a database. They used "local" for templates on the users' own PC because that's what "local" meant to them. Terms that would be more task focused are "shared" or "public" instead of "database", and "private" instead of "local."
- iCasualties.org provides up-to-date tallies of the number of Coalition military personnel killed or injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It starts by asking site visitors to select a "database." However, visitors to this site don't care or need to know that the Web site's data is stored in multiple databases. Task-focused instructions would ask them to select a country in which there is an ongoing conflict, not a database (see Fig. 11.5).
FIGURE 11.5 iCasualties.org uses language that is not task-focused ("database") in its instructions.