If I Leave the Tutorial, Can I Get Back In?

While reading c|Net’s preview of the upcoming Palm Prē, I came across: “When you fire up the smartphone for the first time, there’s a brief animated tutorial to familiarize you with the various gestures” the Prē uses. And having a first-time orientation is a pretty common UX decision, especially for products that are trying to introduce new features or concepts.

But what I’d really like is to try the thing out on my own for a while, and then read the instructions if I get into trouble. That impulse to explore is part of why I’m so good with technology in the first place; it’s a shame to have to put it aside when I try out a new device.

And really, the only reason to put it aside at all is because I worry that, when I break out of the first-time tutorial, I’ll have no way to get back into it if I want to later on.

Actually, ignoring the instructions is a fairly common male use-mode: lots of guys would rather have their shoulder dislocated than admit that they couldn’t magically, psychically divine the best way to work a mechanical or electronic device the first time they saw it. While I feel disinclined to cater to that particular aspect of machismo, I think we could use a solution that would allow people with a drive to explore (like me) to indulge that drive. It would also have the happy side-effect of assisting the Tim Taylors of the world, if they decide to avail themselves of it.

But the problem isn’t one of letting the user bail out of the first-time tutorial; it’s one of assuring the user that they’ll be able to get back in if they decide they want to later. So a simple button saying “Exit Tutorial” is not enough.

Messaging saying “Exit Tutorial (you will be able to come back later, if you wish)” isn’t much better. For one, it’s as clunky as a Mack truck wearing snowshoes inside the house. (Or as a bizarre mixed metaphor.) For two, in a situation like the Palm Prē, where screen real estate is at a premium, you may not be able to fit that many words into the UI at all.

Really, it’s a special case of the general problem: How do you assure the user that a given action will be reversible? That’s a feature that’s becoming more crucial all the time, and yet it’s something that our current UI metaphors don’t really have any vocabulary for.

One Trackback

  1. By Kagan MacTane on Friday, June 5th, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    On Twitter, Kagan MacTane said: New blog post: If I Leave the Tutorial, Can I Get Back In? http://bit.ly/alP0K
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