Design Specifications and Guidelines - User Assistance


A wizard is a special form of user assistance that automates a task through a dialogue with the user. Wizards help the user accomplish tasks that can be complex and require experience. Wizards can automate almost any task, such as creating new objects and formatting a set of objects like a table or paragraph. They are especially useful for presenting complex and infrequent tasks that the user may have difficulty learning or doing.

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The system provides support for creating a wizard using the standard property sheet control. For more information about this control, see Chapter 8, "Menus, Controls, and Toolbars."

However, wizards are not well-suited to teaching a user how to do something. Although wizards help the user accomplish a task, they should be designed to hide many of the steps and much of the complexity of a given task.

Similarly, do not use wizards for tutorials; wizards should operate on real data. For instructional user assistance, consider procedural Help or tutorial-style interfaces. Do not rely on wizards as a solution for ineffective designs. If your users must rely too much on wizards, your application's interface might be overly complicated.

Use a wizard to supplement rather than replace the user's direct ability to perform a specific task. Unless the task is fairly simple or is done infrequently, experienced users may find that a wizard can be inefficient or does not provide them with sufficient access to all functionality.

Wizards may not always appear as an explicit part of the Help interface. You can provide access to them in a variety of ways, such as from toolbar buttons or by using specific objects (such as Add Printer).

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For more information about templates, see Chapter 6, "General Interaction Techniques."

Guidelines for Designing Wizards

A wizard is a series of steps or pages that help the user perform a task. The pages include controls that you define to gather input from the user. The input is then used to complete the task for the user.

You can define a wizard as a series of secondary windows that the user navigates through, but this can lead to increased modality and screen clutter. Instead, design a wizard using a single secondary window. The system supports two wizard designs: simple and advanced, as shown in Figure 13.18.

Sample simple and advanced wizard designs

Figure 13.18 Sample simple and advanced wizard designs (click to enlarge image)

Use the simple wizard design to present a single task that requires minimal explanation. Typically, a simple wizard would consist of three or fewer pages.

Use the advanced wizard design to present longer, more complex tasks that require multiple decision points (multiple paths). The advanced wizard design includes Welcome and Completion pages.

Window Design

Use the title bar of the wizard window to clearly identify the purpose of the wizard. Because wizards are secondary windows, they should not appear in the taskbar. You can optionally also include a context-sensitive What's This? Help button on the title bar to clearly identify the wizard and its purpose.

At the bottom of the window, include the following command buttons that allow the user to navigate through the wizard.

Commands for Navigating Through a Wizard
Command Action
< Back Returns to the previous page. (Remove or disable the button on the first page.)
Next >  Moves to the next page in the sequence and maintains settings the user provided in previous pages.
Finish Applies user-selected or default settings from all pages and completes the task.
Cancel Discards any user-selected settings, terminates the process, and closes the wizard window.

Wizard Pages

Design wizard pages to be easy to understand. It is important that users immediately understand what a wizard is about so they don't feel like they have to read it very carefully to know what is required of them. It is better to have a greater number of simple pages with fewer choices than a smaller number of complex pages with too many options or text. In addition, follow the conventions outlined in this guide and consider the following guidelines when designing a wizard:

  • Always include a statement of purpose for the wizard on the first page and include a graphic on the left side of the page. The purpose of this graphic is to establish a reference point, or theme, such as a conceptual rendering, a snapshot of the area of the display that will be affected, or a preview of the result. You can continue to include a graphic on the interior pages for consistency or, if space is critical, use the entire width of the window to display instructional text and controls that require user input.
  • Minimize the number of pages that require the display of a secondary window. Novice users are often confused by the additional complexity of secondary windows.
  • Avoid a wizard design that requires a user to leave the wizard to complete a task. Less-experienced users rely heavily on wizards. Asking the user to leave a wizard to perform a task can lead to confusion. Instead, design your wizard so that the user can do everything from within it.
  • Make it visually clear that the user interface elements in a graphic illustration on a wizard page are not interactive. You can do this by varying elements from their normal sizes or rendering them more abstractly.
  • Include default values or settings for all controls where possible.
  • Avoid advancing pages automatically. The user may not be able to read the information before a page advances. In addition, wizards are intended to allow the user to be in control of the process that the wizard automates.
  • Display a wizard window so that the user can recognize it as the primary point of input. For example, if you display a wizard from a control that the user chooses in a secondary window, you may need to position the wizard window so that it partially obscures that secondary window.
  • Make sure that the design alternatives offered by your wizard provide the user with positive results. You can use the context, such as the selection, to determine which options are reasonable to provide.
  • Make sure that it is obvious how the user can proceed when the wizard has been completed. This can be accomplished in the text on the last page of the wizard.

You can include the Finish button at any point that the wizard has enough information to complete the task. For example, if you can provide reasonable defaults, you can even include the Finish button on the first page. Place the Finish button to the right and adjacent to the Next button. This allows users to step through the entire wizard or only the page on which the users want to provide input. If the user needs to step through each page of the wizard, replace the Next button with the Finish button on the last page of the wizard. On the last page of the wizard, indicate to the user that the wizard is prepared to complete the task and instruct the user to click the Finish button.

Advanced Wizard Welcome Page

The advanced wizard design includes a Welcome page as its first page. Use the Welcome page to state the purpose of the wizard, as shown in Figure 13.19.

Advanced wizard Welcome page

Figure 13.19 Advanced wizard Welcome page (click to enlarge image)

At the top right of the wizard window, title the Welcome page "Welcome to the Wizard Name Wizard," using book-title capitalization and no ending punctuation. Also provide a short paragraph that welcomes the user to the wizard and explains in general terms what it does. Begin the text with the phrase "This wizard helps you task description." If the wizard performs several tasks or particularly complicated tasks, use a bulleted list of tasks that the user can accomplish. End the Welcome page text with "To continue, click Next."

For frequently used administrative wizards, place a check box with the text "Do not show this Welcome page again" at the bottom of the page before the "To continue…" line.

Advanced Wizard Interior Pages

For advanced wizard interior pages, include a header area at the top of the wizard window. Begin the header area with a title and a subtitle that describe the task that the user can accomplish on that page. For the title, use book title-capitalization with no ending punctuation, as shown in Figure 13.20.

Advanced wizard interior page

Figure 13.20 Advanced wizard interior page (click to enlarge image)

The subtitle should explain the purpose of the page. If the purpose is self-evident, use the subtitle to provide additional information about the step being performed, to define a term or component mentioned in the title or elsewhere on the page, or to ask a question that helps clarify the purpose of the page. Use a complete sentence and sentence-style capitalization, including appropriate ending punctuation.

Sample Page Subtitles
Subtitle style Example
Description of purpose You can choose a sound scheme and then preview different sound events.
Description of step During the installation, the program files are copied to your computer.
Definition of a term Upgrade packs are files that help your programs work with Windows 2000 Professional.

Use a complete sentence and sentence-style capitalization, including appropriate ending punctuation. Avoid repeating subtitles within a wizard.

Advanced Wizard Completion Page

After the user completes an advanced wizard, use this page to inform the user that the wizard was completed successfully and to summarize the changes that were made, as shown in Figure 13.21.

Advanced wizard successful Completion page

Figure 13.21 Advanced wizard successful Completion page (click to enlarge image)

Title the page "Completing the Wizard Name Wizard." In the descriptive text of the page, state that the user has successfully completed the wizard and describe in general terms the task or tasks the user has accomplished. End the Completion page with "To close this wizard, click Finish."

If you include an optional action to be performed after the wizard closes, include a check box with one of the following text selections before the last line of the Completion page:

  • "When I click Finish, perform action for the first time."
  • "Perform action when this wizard closes."
  • "Begin action when this wizard closes."

If the wizard was unsuccessful, use this page to inform the user that the wizard was not successfully completed, as shown in Figure 13.22.

Advanced wizard unsuccessful Completion page

Figure 13.22 Advanced wizard unsuccessful Completion page (click to enlarge image)

In the descriptive text for the page, tell the user that the wizard did not successfully complete the task, and then suggest a solution, if appropriate. For example: "The wizard did not successfully complete task because reason. Perform solution, and then run this wizard again.

Do not use the words "failed" or "failure" to indicate that the completion was unsuccessful. End the Completion page with "To close this wizard, click Finish."

Guidelines for Writing Text for Wizard Pages

Use a conversational rather than instructional writing style for the text you provide on the screens. The following guidelines can assist you in writing the text:

  • Use words like "you" and "your."
  • Start most questions with phrases like "Which option do you want..." or "Would you like to...." Users respond better to questions that enable them to do a task than to being told what to do. For example, "Which layout do you want?" works better in wizards than "Choose a layout."
  • Use contractions and short, common words. In some cases, it may be acceptable to use slang, but you must consider localization when doing so.
  • Avoid using technical terminology that may be confusing to novice users.
  • Try to use as few words as possible. For example, the question, "Which style do you want for this newsletter?" could be written simply as "Which style do you want?"
  • Keep the writing clear, concise, and simple, but not condescending.

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For more information about localization design, see Chapter 15, "Special Design Considerations."