Holiday gifts & idiot lights

Subject: Holiday gifts & idiot lights
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- kinzan -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 2 Jan 2001 13:54:19 -0800

Well, here I am back at work after taking time off for the holidays. I've
been to to scan the messages I've missed and took particular interest
in the discussions of holiday gifts and "check engine" lights on cars.

As technical writers, particularly those of us in the software industry, we
concern over the user interface of the products we document. But how many
of us are willing to accept P**S-POOR UIs in the products we use from day to
day??? As many a usability test shows, users are more willing to blame
themselves for being stupid than they are to blame the manufacturer for
poor design work.

Take the prime example -- VCRs. It's become a joke -- everyone's VCR
blinks 12:00 (well, 1:00 during daylight savings time! <g>). Are we, as
a country, really all that stupid? I don't think so. But some of the VCR
UIs I've seen are abominable. The last time I shopped for a VCR, I returned
the first one I bought because the remote control was so poorly designed
I didn't think we'd ever figure it out. It even went so far as to lay the
pad out in a 4-4-2 grid instead of the usual 3-3-3-1 layout we're all used

So now I have a VCR with a relatively useful remote and three different
ways to record: one-touch, stand-by, and program. One-touch is easy;
you press the button and the menu appears, you set the time, the
machine starts. But stand-by and program continue to befuddle me
after about four years. If you use one function, you have to shut the
machine off; for the other function, you leave the machine on. Which
one is which??? %-\ Why doesn't the menu screen tell me???

And I *hate* idiot lights on cars! Check engine! Yup, it's still there. <g>
But, is the oil gone? is the radiator leaking? is my polution control system
due to be changed??? "Check engine" indeed! Gimme the sports package;
you know -- the one with the oil pressure gauge, the temperature gauge, ...
At least now I know where to start looking!

As a technical writer, I'll gladly allow my manuals to gather dust until
they're needed because the UI they support is designed well enough
to allow users to discover functionality on their own.

Just my two cents. Best wishes for a great 2001 to all!
Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- kinzan -dot- com

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