In everyday work, we come through new tools or new versions of tools we knew before.
The cycle of playing with and manipulating these tools’ objects to attain a reasonable level of mastering… is often daunting!
To minimize the learning cycle of tools, some helpful features have been introduced: like documentation, tooltips… etc.
Documentation is of course important, but, for me, tooltips are much more helpful. They just appear when I need them in the context of using the object or the property.
The thing is: when you manipulate an object for the first time, you really know few things about its composition and, even less, about its role in the global mechanics of the tool in question. You just know it is there, and it should be there for some reason and that you should spend some time to understand: its role, its structure, and finally how can it be useful for you (if at all it could be!)
One way to shorten this learning cycle is to let others show you how to use the tool and its object. Quite useful, but, on one hand, this occults some side of self-experience (important)… and also negatively interferes in your critical view of the tool (which is often useful for the tool’s enhancement itself)
What we do to know about (most) simple toys seems more rational: You just set something on or off (left/right or up/down…)… then put the toy on work and see... after some cycles you end up by figuring out what is the ‘best’ position for your needs (or mood!).
Another representation, which may also give an interesting slant related to this subject, is the DeepZoom technology used in maps applications where you can first see the whole world map, and then, zooming-in on the map you get more details about a given country, city, streets, buildings… etc.
A good path for reducing the time and effort needed to learn a subject or a tool would be:
- To be able to see (explore) the global image of the subject or tool’s structure in action;
- Be able to zoom-in on its objects and see their properties (progressively detailed according to your zoom level);
- Be able to change the value of a give object’ property… and perceive the impact of the change on the global behavior.
This proposed path cannot of course be applied in all situations or contexts, but can be useful in many (most) cases.
We may, for instance, need to create a simulation context inside which we can ‘run’ the specific tool or object. An approach which may also be useful for product tests and benchmarking.
Some interesting works have been done on some aspects (like The Property Grid project)… More is to be done on the visualization of objects and properties by zoom level. Will try to write a sample on this in a future post.