The design of the Configuration experience should address the following aspects:
Goal: Configuration should be as automatic as possible with minimal user involvement, allowing users to get to their work as quickly as possible. The ideal configuration is completely automatic and transparent to the user.
Make configuration automatic.
Less experienced users are likely to take a consumer approach. They will want to plug the product in and begin using it. Configuration should be kept to an absolute minimum number of steps. Settings should have values automatically assigned and these values should be the most appropriate based on user surveys and studies.
Provide useful default values for all parameters.
Useful default values should be provided for all configuration parameters. If any configuration steps are required prior to usage, they should be simple and quick. Wizards should be provided to help less experienced users.
The user should be informed of the default settings and told what to do to customize them. In general, default settings should take advantage of the capabilities of a component. For example, the default setting for a modem capable of operating at 28.8 KB should not be less than that.
Allow configuration parameters to be changed any time after normal usage begins.
The configuration steps for computer systems are often specific to an operating system and the hardware configuration involved. Configuration settings should be changeable after the system is put into operation. Allow users to get the system up and running as quickly as possible and to modify configuration settings later as necessary.
Avoid time dependencies and the use of time-outs.
Avoid time-dependent configuration steps. For example, don't use timeouts that automatically continue if the user fails to respond within a certain time.
Break complex configurations into several verifiable levels.
A base product should be configured and verified to be operational before any after-market options are added. This will help isolate the source of a problem should one occur. Likewise, basic functions should be configured and verified to be operational before advanced functions are configured.
Integrate all components into a seamless configuration process.
Work with vendors and component suppliers to develop additional aids as necessary to ensure that supplied components are well-integrated into the overall experience. For example, user acceptance of license terms and entry of registration numbers for a system should be simplified to a single step, regardless of the number of different components and sources contributing to the system's makeup.
Provide automated assistance.
Provide user assistance and automation, such as wizards. Such aids can be extremely helpful. Most aspects of configuration should be done automatically, using plug-and-play technologies for example. When user options are involved, the user should be shown a list of items that can be configured. Wizards or task guides should lead the user through the settings for required items. Optional items should have default values automatically assigned. Show a list of the assigned values for optional settings that are typically changed and allow the user to change them at this time or later. Provide assistance to help the user understand the purpose and result of each setting.
Use sequences that provide additional sources of assistance as progress is made.
Users may find it useful to print information during the initial experience, so offer them the option of configuring a printer as early as possible. A wizard or task guide can list the supported printers and step the user through the necessary settings.
Many users will want to connect to the Internet as quickly as possible. Consider providing installation assistance via the Internet and support connection early in the configuration process. Provide free access for a limited time. If free access cannot be provided, make sure the user understands the charges involved and has an opportunity to decline the connection. Internet access can also be used to provide additional marketing information, perform Product Registration, deliver product updates and fixes, to tell the user about related products and accessories, and allow them to be ordered.
Provide support assistance that is not dependent on prior levels of configuration.
Provide direct dial telephone support for setup and configuration of each component. Providing some amount of free access time can help users in case of questions and problems. When users are in the initial stages of setup and usage and run into problems, it is reassuring for them to know that help is close at hand.
Provide descriptions of pre-established configurations and user options for changing them.
In most cases, everything the customer paid for should be supplied preloaded, preconfigured, and ready to run. When supplied applications cannot be preloaded, provide assistance to help users understand which applications are preloaded and which are bundled with the system but not preloaded. Provide a single standard installation process that steps the user through selecting applications to be installed and provide easy ways to remove unwanted applications and features. Provide recovery aids, such as a CD or compressed installation files, that allow the user to restore an application to its original preloaded state.
Make product registration easy and efficient.
This is a good time to request that users complete the Product Registration. Ideally they should be allowed to fill in the registration on-line and submit it electronically, using FAX, the Internet, e-mail, or a direct dial connection. Keep the number of questions to a minimum. Avoid asking more than about 10 questions during registration. Tailor the number and types of questions to the intended users and provide write-in areas for general comments.
For online registration, give users the options to connect now, enter the information now and connect later, or do it all later (with and without reminders). Offer some incentive for registering the product and providing feedback on the initial experience.
This is also a good time to allow users to provide general feedback on the product, the brand, the company, the initial experience, or whatever they care to comment on.
Offer users incentives for submitting product registration information.
Pick an incentive that has value for the intended audience, or offer them a choice, such as: a novelty, free software, free upgrades, and so forth.