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About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design by David Cronin, Robert Reimann, Alan Cooper

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Chapter 3. Beginners, Experts, and Intermediates

Most computer users know all too well that buying a new cell phone or opening the shrink-wrap on a new software product augurs several days of frustration and disappointment spent learning the new interface. On the other hand, many experienced users of a digital product may find themselves continually frustrated because that product always treats them like rank beginners. It seems impossible to find the right balance between catering to the needs of the first-timer and the needs of the expert.

One of the eternal conundrums of interaction and interface design is how to address the needs of both beginning users and expert users with a single, coherent interface. Some programmers and designers choose to abandon this idea completely, choosing instead to segregate the user experiences by creating wizards for beginners and burying critical functionality for experts deep in menus. Of course, no one wants to deal with the extra labor associated with moving through a wizard, but the leap from there to knowing what esoteric command to select from a series of long menus is usually a jump off a rather tall cliff into a shark-infested moat of implementation-model design. What, then, is the answer? The solution to this predicament lies in a different understanding of the way users master new concepts and tasks.

Perpetual Intermediates

Most users are neither beginners nor experts; instead, they are intermediates.

The experience level of people performing ...

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