Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
In "What's Behind a Smile?" (August 2007, Smithsonian Magazine), Richard Conniff writes about scientific investigations of the human smile. It's a great article, but of particular interest to instructional designers are the observations about Microsoft's "Clippy" component of their help system:
The main problem with Clippy, says [Clifford] Nass [of Stanford University], who helped test [Microsoft Clippy], was that he never knew when to stop smiling. He smiled when he was butting in with gratuitous advice ("It looks like you're writing a letter. Would you like help?"). And he smiled when people were frustrated and genuinely in need of help, which infuriated them. He was like the insistently smiling waiter who says, 'Here's your order,' and it's all wrong," says Nass. "He carne across as incredibly self-satisfied and annoying."
"What he didn't have was emotional intelligence," says Rosalind Picard, an MIT professor who also studies the emotional back-and-forth between people and computers. "If someone is concentrating, do you barge right in? Or stand quietly by and wait? Clippy didn't see you concentrating. It was like, 'Hi, I'm here! Aren't you happy to see me?' And when you told him to go away, he smiled and did a little dance, as if to say, 'Gotcha! Try that with your boss sometime. See how long you last."
You can listen to a ten minute public radio interview with Conniff to learn more about his article. Unfortunately, the article is not available online.
See also: So long, Clippy.