Using instructional text to offset bad design


Let’s assume for a moment that you’re working on a product that has some bad design elements. Say, for instance, that the original developers forgot to add a few features, like a way for the user to rename or delete pages they’ve made. You know the right solution is to add these buttons where people expect to find them, but it’s too complex and costly to get that done right now. So, what should you do?

In this case, I would place a short piece of instructional text on the screen, precisely where the user would expect to find the buttons if they existed. Let’s take a missing Delete button, for example. Figure out where people tend to look for that button, maybe right next to Edit. Then, insert a little piece of text that says something like this: “Need to delete this page?” That text would link to a popup window, online help area, etc. that shows you how to do it. Even if the process is cumbersome, at least users can see how it’s done without hunting for a button that isn’t there.

Of course, you shouldn’t use this as a crutch and cram the screen full of extra text for every feature that’s hard to find. In the long run, you should fix the design so that users have easy access to the tools they need. But in the meantime, this approach can help reduce user frustration and lower the number of calls or emails where people ask “How do I delete a page?” and other basic questions. Plus, it shows users that you’re working towards a solution, even if that fix may be a long way off.