Stop the Frickin’ Presses Dept:
Washington Post: Why Won’t We Read the Manual? And so it has come to this: Americans buy the most sophisticated computers, the coolest digital cameras, the most advanced automobiles, the most versatile cell phones and handheld organizers, and then . . . and then we forget, or decline, or flat out refuse, to read the directions. [Tomalak’s Realm]
In a long piece — and God knows it’s a fruitful topic — here’s my favorite blip:
In the not-too-distant future, many of those questions may prove unnecessary, at least for frozen dinners and such. Some microwaves are being designed to read a bar code that will be printed on the side of the package and cook it automatically. “The consumer won’t even have to read directions on how long he needs to cook the meal; he’ll just have to eat it,” Laermer said.
And people will learn to use this feature, exactly how?
There is no shortage of Dumb User (a/k/a “Luser”) stories. They are more than amply balanced by all the tech support people whose very first line of defense is to tell you to format your hard drive and re-install Windows.
I’ve written a few manuals, many for products that didn’t actually ship. I’ve also written some “after-market” books; unfortunately, before publishers got the idea that technology books could actually be entertaining.
My favorite user manual stories came from when I was Director of Documentation at Headstart Technologies — one of the first computer companies to sell through consumer electronics stores. We produced a computer called the Headstart Explorer, an easy-to-use XT clone with a custom graphic interface, the first-ever implimentation of DOS on ROM, and a couple of interesting problems:
There was a small problem with the hard drive. The bay in which it sits does not have adequate ventilation. If you left the drive running for a long while, it would really heat up. Eventually, it could heat up to the point of softening the plastic around it. If you weren’t using the monitor stand, and had just set the monitor on the main unit, that side could start to smush down.
We generated an extremely simple “words-of-one-syllable-or-less” kind of manual that people seemed to enjoy and was a major pisser to produce. One user in Los Angeles didn’t think much of it. Less than pleased with the machine or the docs or his coffee that morning, he pulled out a .45 while on the phone with tech support, and in the blessed name of Elvis put a hole in the monitor. Crude, but an effective critique. I’m pretty sure that he didn’t get his money back.