Less is more, more or less

On this rainy Monday morning, I found myself exploring (link-hopping, really) information about developing user assistance for mobile applications. Much of what I found was initially published back in November of 2011, which surprised me that the first rounds of ideas and publishing was so long ago and not so long ago. The second edition of Joe Welinske’s book Developing User Assistance for Mobile Apps came out in September of 2014. And, surprisingly enough, not much else between these times has been written about user assistance for mobile apps. (In 3 pages of Google search results for “user assistance for mobile apps,” I found only articles from 2011 and 2014, and mostly from Welinske, or people talking about his book.)

In an article published in Intercom by Welinske around the time the first edition of his book was coming out, he encourages technical communicators to “disengage from legacy design and implementation techniques from the desktop world.” In talking about creating content for mobile apps, he credits Mies van der Rohe, a German architect from the early 1900s around the design concept of “less is more” and seems to consider it a critical concept for mobile UA. “UA for apps is more about crafting words and phrases and less about generating volumes of content.” And, “In mobile, writing is about spending more time coming up with precisely the right words.” He suggests that all our familiar UA deliverables still exist, but “they just have a very different form factor in mobile.” In his summary, he also encourages that we “provide a rich and layered UA experience” that “[matches] the look and feel of your app.”

I admit that I have not bought Wilenske’s book. Perhaps I should, but perhaps if I am to follow his advice and disengage from the legacy designs and implementations, I need to discover what the mobile world designs and implementations have become? I did discover a blogger talking about writing online help for mobile apps, and exploring various apps on his smartphone, perhaps as a way to discover what information he needs or wants in that new environment. I feel like I need to walk away from online help and user assistance altogether, and think about new ideas such as “tours” or “embedded content” (not even “embedded assistance, just “embedded content.”). To truly embrace the “less is more,” I need to realize that online help and contextual assistance are just not part of a mobile environment, and that any content is just part of the mobile app itself in some way, shape, or form.

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