Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Close, but no cigar
Novelist Richard Kadrey has released his novel The Infinite Matrix in a variety of electronic formats, including a strikingly-formatted PDF that's designed specifically for onscreen reading. It's in a two-up layout with short column widths and big type. (Similar to the approach used by the application Tofu.)
Unfortunately, one if its innovations is to open in "full-screen" mode which hides all the usual Acrobat plug-in controls. The PDF embeds its own set of control buttons, but opens to a splash page that is without any control or indication about how to proceed.(You have to press the down arrow key or click the page.) This apparently stymies so many readers that a help page is necessary. Surprising users with an opaque custom UI is a conceit that happens often, but attempting to remedy the problem with a help file, instead of fixing the user interface, only compounds the initial mistake. Thoughts from the book's designer are still worth reading, providing that you forgive the usability oversights.