It seems that users are being initiated into new technologies and new interactions almost weekly. It might be hyperbole, but often they are lost as a new twelve-finger-diagonal swipe interaction reaches their devices. How do you teach the user to use the device without giving them long, tiring, and boring instructional screens (though, I have seen some very clever instructional which are both informational and interactive)—which they will likely forget upon first use anyway?
Hinting is the screen responding to a user’s input—whether that be waking the device or casual use. An example might be to touch the screen without making a specific button selection to display a navigational map, slowly reveal a secondary screen, or highlight a section. These types of interactions quickly informs the user and can help them become accustomed to new interactions. These can be time-based and no longer appear after the user has used the device or application a few times, they can be disabled as the user wishes, or they can be subtle enough to remain for less savvy users while not interfering with the more savvy.
The navigational map is activated when the user touches “dead space” within an application. (Dead space refers to non-interactive portions of the screen.) The map shows them possibilities of how they can swipe, but also allows them to tap a region to reveal that section. The slide in animation, theoretically, teaches the user where those items are located and slowly helps them understand how to navigate around each section.
This particular navigational map didn’t survive, but the concept works.
Paging dots are a pretty standard way of hinting, however anecdotally users have had issues with even noticing paging dots. That said Nielson Norman Group also found that users have trouble find/noticing/understanding this form of hinting. Because of this we tried the above solution and several other concepts. We wanted to be more in the user’s face without getting in their way. (However, many of our users still had to hurdle the notion that a “printer’s display doesn’t have swipe.”)
One of the ways we experimented was to start the interface in a partial swipe. This reveals the secondary screen as well as showing the primary screen. The interface then slid back into place leaving only the primary screen visible. We discovered this form of hinting helped users understand that there was something more.
We also discovered that if we could hint the swipe to the user on the primary screens they were more likely to carry that information through the rest of their experience. Hinting is teaching. Teaching doesn’t have to be heavy handed— though it does need to be consistent and subtle enough to still be seen but not be invasive.