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Subject:More than a writer (LONG)? From:Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca> To:TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Steven Brown <stevenabrown -at- yahoo -dot- com> Date:Wed, 15 Feb 2006 15:55:04 -0500
Steven Brown reported: <<[a friend] recently bought a desk from a major
furniture manufacturer and... found that the handles on the desk
drawers were installed on the inside of the drawers! ... Buried deep in
text on page three he finds an explanation. It seems the handles are
installed this way so that the desk will fit inside the box it's
delivered in. The customer is expected to move them.>>
That would have been my first thought upon seeing the handles installed
"inside out". But that's just me. <g>
<<We cannot count on our customers to read the great documentation we
write... A good technical writer -- one who does more than simply
"write," someone who adds value to his employer -- would have said,
"No, this traditional instruction pamphlet is inadequate. What we need
is a sticker on the drawer that explains why the handles are installed
on the inside.">>
While your larger point is valid (that we can add value by pointing out
this kind of problem to the developers of a product), the proposed
solution may not be: after all, if they won't read the assembly
instructions, what makes you think they'll read the sticker? Plus I've
had many a battle with stickers (with poorly chosen glues) that refused
to come off the product using anything short of a sandblaster.
Not a criticism of you or what you wrote, but rather a more general
point: the need for documentation, even as simple as a sticker, is
always a clue that the interface is unclear. A clear interface
minimizes (and sometimes entirely eliminates) the need for
documentation, and investing a few moments thinking about the problem
often reveals a better solution.
To me, that better solution is to do what Ikea and many other
manufacturers do: ship the handles and other hardware detached from the
product in a large, hard-to-lose bag. This saves time and effort for
the manufacturer, who no longer needs to waste time and energy
installing the hardware in the factory, but more importantly, saves
this time for the user: it eliminates an entire step in the procedure
(removal of the hardware). Moreover, it eliminates the need for any
documentation, including a sticker. What could be more intuitive than
"the handles are not attached, but there's a bunch of screws--clearly I
have to install them myself"?