07 November 2010

Explaining GUIs on the phone

As de facto IT support person for my household, I sometimes find myself on the phone trying to answer a question about how to accomplish a task within the GUI of a program or OS.  This often tends to be a frustrating experience, as successful GUI navigation often takes place by feel, unlike command lines that need to be known beforehand but can be directly quoted. I often find it necessary to bring up the same GUI myself, to locate and cite the right menu items, while asking "what are you seeing now" and hoping that our reference points are comparable.  Naturally, it's hard to describe "what you're seeing now" comprehensively and concisely by voice, particularly when focus can shift among multiple windows.  GUIs provide a rich (and, when successful, satisfying) context for interaction, but it's difficult to explain how to behave effectively with them when that context isn't available.

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