More than a writer (LONG)?

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"?

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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More than a writer (LONG): From: Steven Brown

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