Ever been frustrated learning how to use a new piece of software because of all the options and not sure where to start?
Is there any software that can switch to a "beginners" mode?
Meaning, hide the UI and buttons for more complex tasks and focus on the basics.
Would be even better if you could toggle between a few modes, adjusting how many menu options to show.
Apple Ads for the App Store have a super simple interface by default and it can be switched to an advanced one (which isn't complex either compared to something like Facebook Ads).
VLC for macOS shows only basic preferences and you can click "Show all" at the bottom to go to the insanely complex IDE-like preferences.
Thought I'd give a quick shoutout to Adobe's guided tutorials.
I believe it's close to what you're talking about and I see some of the other good folks here have mentioned their 'Learning' panel view.
I wanted to make mention in particular of their guided tutorials. I picked up all that I needed to of Premiere Pro in 1 hour of going through their 'Getting started' tutorial. I can't remember exactly what it was called but it essentially guided you click for click as you edited a video (they provided all the resources). By the end of it, I was surprisingly pleased with the execution. I thought it would be quite clunky but am very impressed with the job they did.
I’ve thought about this for a while, but this recent experience motivated me to share out…
After a decade plus of using workarounds and related apps (Google Slides, Keynote, along with standard engineering/architecture CAD software) for graphic design, I finally learned the basics of Illustrator via iPad app. Really good lesson tours. Good enough of a grasp to teach others.
Then, when I jumped to the desktop version, it felt overwhelming. I know you can set up custom workspaces (decide which panels to show) and that given enough time, I would get comfortable. It was a stark contrast between the two spaces.
Not certain this is the answer, but I do find that command palettes (like in Sublime Text or Superhuman, where you can type to search for features with fuzzy matching to help get a result even if you don't type the exact feature name). That, plus tooltips that point out features or suggest keyboard shortcuts when you click something, can help people discover features and let designers keep the software interface less cluttered without having to build custom beginner and advanced interface designs.
My favorite small-but-powerful image editor, Acorn, has added a Command Bar to their new v7
Years ago I worked on a 3D CAD product which was insanely complex. It ranged from designing explosive blast patterns to automated road design spiraling down into a minesite. The only way it was remotely usable was because it had the command palette approach.
Oh nice, I saw Acorn featured in the App Store the other day, that must be why!
That's fascinating. It does feel like the command palette approach is one that's almost older and has just been "re-discovered" and branded more recently.
The first desktop computers I worked on, as a lowly programmer doing user support, were Burroughs B20 with a semi-commandline system. This was pre bitmap GUI but BTOS had a CLI where typing a few characters popped up a list of matching commands. Picking one with an arrow key dropped you into a form for parameters, where you cycled around and filled them in then pressed the dedicated Go key on the numeric keypad. All drawn with a simple line-drawing character set, as was also common on mainframe terminals.
In terms of an app that provides good in-context help, look to Onshape, now owned by PTC. It was created by the founders of Solidworks (mid-90s).
It provides browser-based parametric computer-aided design, using some of the traditional UI ideas in the industry-standard software but also using the opportunity to develop new UI, circa 2014.
When you mouse over an icon for a tool, it gives the name; wait a few seconds, then a few sentence description. If you still need more, then it will jump to a standard help file.
Also, there is a hotkey to type a command and it will bring it up.
Not quite the same idea of having different “modes” of UI, but I find the UI helpful for the new learner.
The first thing that came to mind here is Lightroom, where the newer Lightroom app is far simpler than Lightroom Classic, much more on the level of Lightroom for iPad. Then inside of Lightroom Classic itself, the Library view's Quick Develop tools are a great way to quickly edit photos without knowing all of Lightroom's features.
Photoshop has an option to switch between Essentials, 3D, Motion, Painting, Photography, and Web modes. Those swap out the visible tools and sidebars ... though none, including the Essentials view, are exactly easy to use.
If anything, the best option here historically has been in older desktop software that sold, say, Home and Professional editions based on the features you wanted. OmniFocus still does this; the basic version includes the core features, while the Pro version includes scripting and other "advanced" features. Photoshop partly does this with their cheaper Photoshop Elements desktop app and Photoshop for iPad. Microsoft Office's web apps fill this role, as much simpler apps that are easier to get started with (and free), with the paid desktop apps having full features. Or even free bundled apps often do this; WordPad could be seen as a simpler Word, while iMovie and Garageband are simpler takes on Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro.
What is missing is, as you mentioned, software that lets you switch between simpler and more advanced modes. You can often hide toolbars and such, but that if anything is a power user move once you already know where everything is and feel comfortable hiding it. Tech journalist David Progue mentioned this idea over half a decade ago in Scientific American; maybe it's an idea who's time has come.
We are just launching our new design editor with modes - from beginner to advanced and the rationale behind it is exactly the same that we see in gaming apps. Typically while learning new games you start off with learning the basic mechanics which make the gameplay fun and teach you the core world interaction techniques. These same mechanics evolve over time and they keep the gameplay engaging for advanced and more sophisticated users.
In real world solo mode is so much more different than team-mode, teams come with interaction dynamics, protocols and custom signals and language. However, rarely do we see modern day software move with the same elegance between team flow and solo mode.
Would love to see more software embracing practice levels - much like editors of yore had done with custom plugins & shortcuts.
Neat to hear @mercurialsolo. How do you decide which features to put in which modes, and do you have any ways to let users find out about more advanced features even if they're in a more beginner mode?
We usually approach it the same way that we have approached learning and see in games often. I am quite inspired by level designers in games and some of the work there is terrific in terms of how to think of productivity or any workflow software too. Key thinking being able to get the user familiar with the underlying mechanics of your app through simpler interactions. For us - we look at single-flow use-cases before layering on collaboration and multi-user use-cases into the play. During the initial levels we do help the user develop the app muscle through simpler outcomes and interactions within app.
While we do index for natural exploration and use progressive disclosure patterns we also do augment these with in-app nudges and off-app workshops.
New users to Backendless are able to 'gamify' their learning with 'Missions' that task you to use certain features and unlock/
"Backendless Missions are the fun, challenging new way to learn app development with the Backendless Platform. Each mission you complete gives you rewards such as Backendless Bucks, experience points (XP), and Achievement badges. Plus, when you complete enough missions, you can unlock the new free Springboard plan."
That's a clever approach, especially requiring you to go through the features to unlock the free plan. Reminds me of Dropbox, where you would get additional free storage if you installed the desktop and mobile apps, and more.
Looking for a better way to plan remote meetings across time zones, and keep up with events. What software is doing that best today?
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The most confusing thing about Facebook Ads is that if you go to promote an existing post, you get this simplified interface that doesn't include all the options—and then, the full Facebook Ads Manager is rather complex and confusing, as you mentioned.
Does the Apple Ads interface do anything to let you know the more advanced features are there if you need them? Seems like that's the hard thing to balance: Simplicity versus discovery of the more advanced features.
Great point on VLC's settings; seems like I've seen something similar in other apps before. I almost think BetterTouchTool's settings used to have an option like that. That also reminds me of Safari hiding the developer tools by default, but letting you enable them from the settings.
I think the simplified post promotion was designed to make people waste money. Good returns from Facebook ads happen when their algorithms discover "Lookalike Audiences" based on the visitors to your site (tracked via FB Pixel) or people subscribed to your FB pages. Promoting by geographical location or interests is very inefficient in comparison.
Apple Ads show the "Basic" and "Advanced" options of signing in, so they are really upfront about the split: https://searchads.apple.com
You can make the promoted posts work—but you have to go start a traditional campaign in the full Ads Manager first, make a lookalike audience and save it, then go use that audience for the promoted post. The default options don't offer nearly enough.
That's super cool on Apple Ads, thanks for sharing!