UX Power Up: Wizards

Wizards are those dialogs or flows that walk a user through to the next step. The idea has a good intent: help the user by holding their hand from A to B. But are they always warranted? Can they get in the way of a good user experience? In this weeks UX Power Up Frank discusses wizard interface pros and cons. 

Please post your comments below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Transcript of video above…


Frank Spillers here, founder of Experience Dynamics and it’s time for this week’s UX Power Up.

So, today I’d like to talk about topic of wizards, and I don’t mean those guys with the hats and all the magical spells.  I mean the step-by-step process that we use online or in software to guide someone through a process.  It’s been around for, oh, 30 years or so.  It has a very specific style guide related to it, which is what you see here… so, you have Quit on the left, you have Back and Next kind of side by side.  You know the score, right?

But what I wanted to talk to you about is that I think, I’m having the feeling that wizards are overused, you know. And so what I want to talk about is the rule about wizards.  That because wizards have been around for 30 years, and are used in software – for example, installation of software, that they are increasingly being used on the web, in web applications or experiences on the web.  One of the problems with the wizards is that they are overdone.  Like, you don’t need a wizard all the time.  So, even though it makes sense to have a step-by-step process, and walk the user through, you might not need it.  It might be overkill.  I’ve seen a lot of designs where that’s the case.  

So, what’s the rule about a wizard?  Well, a wizard is a one time process.  And that’s why it’s familiar with setup.  It’s not – for example – if you try, if you are an Outlook user, and you try and look at your email, open your email account and try to configure your email, they go through a wizard process.  Even the wi-fi configuration in Windows offers a wizard.  You know, they have that kind of choose if you are a public network or if you are a local connection and then they go “End” at the end.  And, it’s like an extra step that you don’t really need.  So even… the same with the web.  The idea is good that you want a step-by-step the users through a process – depending on the task, and depending on the mindset that the user is in.  Like, you might not want to do the step-by-step, it might be too much, it might be too much hand-holding.  It might be too much stepping, stepping, stepping.  

So be careful with wizards even though they are tried and tested.  We have 30 years of software development, there is a rule with wizards – and it’s only use it for one-time experiences, and use it very carefully, if it makes sense for the task, if it makes sense for the user’s mindset.  Otherwise it may shoot you in the foot, it might just be this tedious process where the user is going through and they have to go Next, Next, Next.  And then you have some web applications that don’t support Back – they don’t give you Quit, they don’t give you Back.. I tested a web application recently that had the Back button disabled, so the user was in this wizard where it was trapped – where it was really just a Next thing.  So that was just a poor implementation of the style guide recommendation for wizards.  

So, thanks so much.  We’ll see you next time.

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