Help guides and Wizards. worth it or not?

Just wanted to put this out there as it relates to a current project.

Are help features and wizards that helpful?
Examples of who does it right and who does it wrong?

Any interesting other ways programs (other things?) allow users to learn and be helped. Basically, how is the end goal of: “teaching and helping users reach there goals” achieved in well thought out and useful ways?

Wizards are definitely helpful for novice users, but they certainly don’t promote learning. So if that novice user is going to be a frequent user, it’s probably doing more harm than good, because novices don’t stay novices for long.

A Wizard is basically an alternative-view of your main UI. It takes a wide-shallow Information Architecture and makes it narrow-deep. This guides the user down a specific path, but limits flexibility and prohibits their ability to form a correct mental-model of the system.

I think Wizards are great for:
One time or very infrequent use (like burning a CD, or initial setup)
UI’s with small screens
Processes that benefit from chunking input differently (such as asking for personal information upfront, then using it to fill out many forms.)

Intuit TurboTax is a great example of the last point: It’s a “wizard” for your tax returns, walking you through the information it needs to fill out the appropriate documents. It also allows you to bail-out of the wizard at any time and do things the manual way.

The iPhone setup wizard is really amazing considering that it’s so well integrated with the AT&T service setup.

I get annoyed with the “setup” wizard on my Vista Media Center, because it’s redundant when I want to change one thing (skip would be nice.)

Hey CG,

I am using a turbo tax like wizard right now for a scheduling feature, as well as a manual approach. I’m thinking about scraping the wizard for a 2-min tutorial on how the scheduling works-kind of Google calendar ish- which will hopefully allow the user a much more fluid and intuitive way to make changes, while getting real-time feedback on their choices (this should hopefully help with their mental model), rather than having to wait through the wizard to see what the deal is.

However, only user testing will tell which is more effective. Maybe both.

Thanks again for your quick response, I’m an intern working on IxD and product design, and I’m learning as I go, so your advice has been invaluable.