Impact Technical Publications Manual with disappearing content
This is by far the longest exhibit in the Psychics' Gallery.

If you bear with us, you may find the exhibit instructive.

It is a usability test with us as both the subjects and the analysts recording the subjects' actions.

While reading, you may chuckle at our mistakes!

But remember: we are experienced technical writers; we make our living by analyzing software, hardware, and telecommunication systems and explaining how they work. We will keep trying to find information in a help system long after many other users have given up in frustration.

Return to The Psychics' Gallery.

Today we're going to empty a web authoring tool's site trash.

Before we begin, let's set the scene. We're not power users. We upgraded from a simpler program from the same company, and our goal is to maintain our website as quickly as possible. We did not take a week-long training seminar.

After working on our website for a few days, we are ready to empty the site trash.

Here is our website project. (It's simulated. We've put a single file in the illustration to keep things simple.)

Figure 1

Where the heck is the site trash? We don't see it in the site window, and it's not a menu option.

Time to consult the help system. Let's look up "trash" in the index. No luck. Let's try "site trash." Bingo. "Site Trash folder" has one index entry. Here it is.

Figure 2

Hmmm. "Deleting files." We already know how to do that. That's why we're trying to empty the site trash.

Let's be patient and look at the subheadings. "To delete a file...." Nope. "To recover a file from the Site Trash." That's not what we want to do. "To move files to the system Recycle Bin or Trash." That's it!

We start reading the instructions: "In the Extras tab…." What does that mean? Take a look at Figure 1 again. Do you see an Extras tab? We don't, either.

We're impatient users. We decide not to worry about the Extras tab. The instructions continue: "To move all files from the Site Trash to the system Recycle Bin or Trash, select the Site Trash icon and then choose Empty Trash from the context menu." Sounds simple, doesn't it?

But where's the SiteTrash icon?

What was that about an Extras tab?

This is annoying. All we want to do is empty the d*mn site trash. Why doesn't the help system just tell us how to do it?

We go back to the index and look up "Extras tab." There are four main entries with no descriptive text plus a subentry for "refreshing."

Here's the first main entry for "Extras tab."

Figure 3

What's this? We want information about the Extras tab. Why are we looking at an essay on "Using the site window"? We skim through the text displayed in the help browser. "Extras tab" does not appear in either the text or the illustration.

Let's try the second main entry. "Using a page template to create new objects." Huh?

For the third main entry, we get an essay on "Collecting and organizing library objects."

Things aren't looking good. The fourth main entry is "Editing object library source files."

The "refreshing" subentry gives "Refreshing the site window." No help there either.

Now we are completely frustrated. We go back to the application and work our way through all the menu options and the tabs in the project window, hoping to find a clue to the site trash. Again nothing.

We go back to the Site Trash help. It says the same thing it said last time.

We go back to the Extras tab help and look at the first entry again. We don't want to learn about the site window. We just want to empty the d*mn site trash.

We click through the other four index entries under Extras tab. They are as confusing as they were the first time we read them.

We go back to the first entry. In frustration, we read it word by word hoping for some clue to the mysterious Extras tab. When we scroll down through the topic, we get the following:

Figure 4

Look! There's the Extras tab. There's the SiteTrash icon. But our site window doesn't look like that.

Finally we read the last paragraph. Ah, the double arrow button! Why didn't they tell us about that before?

We click the double arrow button, and there are the Extras tab and the SiteTrash icon.

Figure 5

Now that we've found the SiteTrash icon, how do we empty it?

We go through the menu options again. Nothing. We try the curious little button in the upper right corner of the window. It does some confusing things, and we spend five minutes getting back to where we were.

Finally, we go back to the "Site Trash folder" index entry.

What's a "context menu"? We go through all the menu options one more time.

Now we're in an extremely foul mood. An hour has gone by. We go back to the index and look up "Context menu."

Figure 6

Ah! We go to the SiteTrash icon, hold down the Control key and click the mouse button. Voila.

Figure 7

What's the moral of the story? There are at least three:

  • Don't make users read an extended discussion of "Using the site window" to perform a basic function like emptying the site trash.
  • Don't assume that users will read the basic task that precedes the basic task they are trying to perform. Let's go back to Figure 2 and read the "To recover a file from the Site Trash" task. It mentions the Show/Hide Right Pane icon. We didn't see that until we were working on this exhibit in the Psychics' Gallery. If that line had been repeated in the "To move files to the system Recycle Bin or Trash" task, we might have figured out how to empty the site trash without all the aggrevation.
  • Don't hide the interface to a basic function like emptying the site trash in an interface object that does not appear when the site is created.