A Look At Tutorials In Applications

Posted 8/3/2014 2:22 AM by Michael Nelson and Curtis Lauterbach

Introduction

With the rise in use of mobile technology, software developers continue to push the limits of what we think is possible. When creating apps (or any product), it is critical to its success that end users are able to understand how to interact with it. One method for assisting users in understanding an app is to provide tutorials. In-app tutorials give users clear and understandable instructions for using the product that they can access whenever necessary. The tricky part with tutorials however is when and how to educate users. Providing too much instruction at the app’s launch can cause users to be annoyed, while providing little to no instruction might leave them confused. In this article, we briefly discuss examples of both good and bad app tutorial practices in the iPhone/iPad game World of Tanks Blitz. (Note: this is not a review of World of Tanks Blitz, this is an educational article examining user experience tutorial design).

The Bad

When learning a new app, tutorials are always helpful but not always necessary. What makes tutorials great is that they give users the option to choose their own experience while learning. Some users like to follow a tutorial, while others prefer to figure the app out through trial and error. However, when an app requires the user to go through a tutorial prior to use, it can create a negative experience. For example, when we first played World of Tanks Blitz, we were frustrated with the opening tutorial. When the app first opens, users must create an account and then go through an interactive tutorial on how to play the game. During this tutorial, users cannot exit to access other features of the app.

Users cannot go to the main page after launching the app for the first time
(Images taken on an IPad from the app World of Tanks Blitz)

The tutorial is five minutes long and explains every gameplay detail that users could figure out on their own through trial and error. In addition, the user must complete the entire tutorial before any other features of the app can be accessed. We almost abandoned the app due to the frustration of not being able to exit the interactive tutorial and use the other features offered.

By reducing user options, the app creates a negative user experience. In this case, the lack of control led us to lose trust and almost uninstall it. Having used the app more, we understand why the tutorial is required, as the game is complex and gaining knowledge about how to play early on is very beneficial later (you can also access this tutorial later through the main menu). However, tutorials are aids given to the user to assist in learning the product if needed. Tutorials should not mandate their use for interacting with the product, as it can drastically limit the user’s experience. This is especially true for apps as they are generally designed for quick navigation and ease of use. In addition, many apps are used casually in short durations. Most users do not want to spend their time in a tutorial when they only intend to use the app for a brief amount of time. The more a tutorial gets in the user’s way, the more likely they will ignore it or leave the app.

The Good

When an application has complex functions or multiple features, users can get confused, lost, or not realize the app’s full capabilities. Take the home screen below as an example (called the “garage”).

Home screen “The Garage”
(Image taken on an IPad from the app World of Tanks Blitz)

When we first looked at the screen it seemed overwhelming. The dashboard has 15 different functions, and a majority of them open other functions. Fortunately, World of Tanks Blitz has a wonderful informational tutorial for understanding how this screen works. When accessing the garage screen for the first time, the app breaks down each section and explains how it functions. To increase comprehension, the game often darkens the background and highlights the selected feature with a white text box pointing to the feature.

Highlighting focuses attention
(Images taken on an IPad from the app World of Tanks Blitz)

This feature benefits the user as it quickly informs them what is happening without overloading them with too much information. In addition, the tutorial does not prevent users from performing other functions. Users can ignore the tutorial and look at other features in the app, or tap through the tutorial at their own speed. This style of tutorial provides the user the maximum amount of information, but gives them freedom to disregard it, resulting in a friendly user experience. The downside of this tutorial is that once the user completes it, they can never access it again. Tutorials should always be accessible as users may forget information or need assistance later on.

Conclusion

Tutorials in apps have the difficult task of being useful while not hindering the user’s experience. Tutorials with the greatest user impact are those that give users a choice. Users know when they need assistance and will access it when necessary. When tutorials try to provide too much assistance, they can hinder the experience and frustrate users. (As a final note, we really enjoy World of Tanks Blitz and highly recommend it!).

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