CD versus printed documentation?

Subject: CD versus printed documentation?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l List <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, "Vint, Abigail (Innovatia)" <Abigail -dot- Vint -at- innovatia -dot- net>
Date: Thu, 11 Sep 2008 11:02:49 -0400

Abigail Vint wondered<<I'm currently doing some work for a consumer
product company that is very focused on the usability and the user
experience. They are in the process of making some decisions about
the packaging for their product and I am trying to find some research
that has been done on the user experience and documentation.>>

First and foremost, you need to specify the nature of the product
before we can provide focused advice. Different products (i.e,.
different usage contexts) require different solutions. Second, if
your company is truly focused on usability, you should be asking the
user of the product, not us. Each audience is more or less unique,
and your actual audience is the only credible source for answering
your question.

That being said, we can provide some general guidance to help you
focus your question:

<<Does anyone know of any studies or research that talk about the
best user experience when it comes to documentation in a box? Do
users want printed materials? Do users want a CD with interactive
materials? Do they want both?>>

There are undoubtedly dozens of such studies, but each is somewhat
unique to its context. The Usability Professionals Association
( is a likely source, as is STC's Usbility
and User Experience SIG (

To show why asking for a general answer isn't helpful, consider two
examples: First, users of a bathtub-mounted storage center for soaps,
shampoos, emolients, etc. No place for a computer, so a CD is clearly
inappropriate. Now consider a vehicle-mounted or portable GPS device:
very little place for a printed user manual during use of the
product, particularly if the GPS is being used by a hiker or while
driving, so software (loaded from CD and integrated with the
application to provide embedded help) is a more appropriate solution.

These are clearly extremes, but I chose them deliberately to
illustrate the problem: You can't propose a solution until you
understand the audience and the situations in which they will be
using the product. For example, you'll generally see a mix of media
even for computers; most computers now ship with a printed unpacking
and assembly guide, but essentially all their documentation is
provided on the computer. Yet many still any printed troubleshooting
or getting started guide, presumably because some Einstein figured
that the easiest way to troubleshoot your computer if it won't boot
is to insert a CD and research the problem. Ahem.

<<Our client is not necessarily interested in the cost-saving factor
at this stage - they are trying to determine what is best for the
user and are looking for research to back this recommendation up.>>

It pays to remind them that spending a few dollars now to research
this topic properly will save them tons of money in support calls and
lost customers farther down the road.

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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CD versus printed documentation: From: Vint, Abigail \(Innovatia\)

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