RE: Holiday gifts & idiot lights

Subject: RE: Holiday gifts & idiot lights
From: "Smith, Martin" <martin -dot- smith -at- encorp -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 2 Jan 2001 16:14:11 -0700

Regarding VCR interfaces Sandy Harris wrote "I don't think the blinking
12:00 is either a UI or a documentation issue. The obvious fix is to put a
small rechargable battery and a charging circuit in the device...The reason
they don't is that price is a major issue in sales of VCRs and they're
"trimming costs" to "be competitive"..."

I'm not sure that price alone explains the complexity of VCR user interfaces
and the plethora of blinking, do-nothing gadget lights and buttons that
clutter most consumer electronics. Rather, I think the general public
equates these adornments with quality. The product that lacks these
"features" is likely to be perceived as a lesser value.

One can find stereo (and video) equipment built with careful attention to
minimalist principles, both in terms of the circuit topology and the user
interface. A number of companies sell single-ended triode tube amplifiers
with oil-filled capacitors and no negative feedback (Cary Audio probably
being the most notable). Western Electric has even resumed production of the
300B triode, one of the most beloved tubes among audiophiles. Each channel
of our home stereo consists of a pair of twin-triodes driving a pair of
KT-88 tetrodes in class A/B mode. The user interface consists of an on/off
switch, source selector switch, and a volume control. The imaging so good
one can resolve where individual members of the orchestra are sitting from
left to right and front to back. When I listen to Dmitry Shostakovich's
first violin concerto in A minor, I can hear the soloist breathing.

The issue really comes down to quality and price. Achieving high quality in
analog electronics is a very expensive proposition. But I am a classical
music fanatic and am willing to spend as much on audio equipment as some
people do on their cars. Then again, I couldn't care less about home theater
and I have never bothered to use our VCR for anything other than playing
tapes. I have no idea whether it's clock is set to the correct time and I
don't care.

Tying this back to technical writing, I think we need to accept that people
are generally deeply interested in a few things and only casually interested
in most others. Whether I am casually or deeply interested in a given
product has a lot to do with what I expect from the interface and the
manual. If I am deeply interested (with FrameMaker for example) I want to
know everything. If I am casually interested, I just want to accomplish a
task in a hurry--I'm likely to use a wizard and embedded help to walk me
through the process and obtain the desired result.

When deciding which user to write for, I'd lean towards taking care of the
casual user. Deeply interested users will invest the time and spend the
money on highly-detailed, third-party books.


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