The dangerous myth of the "completely intuitive product"

Subject: The dangerous myth of the "completely intuitive product"
From: Typo? What tpyo? 04-Jan-1994 1249 <jong -at- TNPUBS -dot- ENET -dot- DEC -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 4 Jan 1994 13:07:20 EST

I claim there are no non-trivial software products that truly require no user
information (no printed documentation, no on-line documentation, and no help
files). Further, I claim that the oft-repeated myth that such products do, or
can, exist is damaging to our profession.

My particular area of expertise is networking products (as a writer) and
Macintosh products (as a user). As I write this I am looking at the manual for
WriteNow, long acclaimed as the easiest Macintosh word processor: 392 pages.
Last night I received a copy of MacTools, a bundle of ten very easily learned
and used utilities: 242 pages. SuperPaint, a fairly low-end paint
program: I estimate it at 600 pages. Even the game Chessmaster 3000 has four
manuals, the largest 71 pages. All of these products *also* include
extensive on-line help.

Is it the case that the documentation is superfluous? I think not.
What of Microsoft Word, which is sweeping the world? It has context-sensitive
help, so it's intuitive, right? Check the sales figures for trade paperbacks.
Topping the list are always books about using Word (not to pick on that product
-- it and Windows are just very popular).

The completely intuitive software product has yet to appear in the networking
market; we've certainly not created it yet. Our group's average manual is
about 120 pages, and we also product on-line help.

Our tools of choice here are Interleaf and VAX DOCUMENT. Many people brag that
they don't need the documentation for either; those are often the people that
need the most help and use the products most inefficiently! In fact, both
products have extensive printed and on-line documentation.

It chafes me when I hear people saying that products "should be so intuitive
they don't need documentation." The speaker is usually either someone trying
to launch a zinger at a technical communicator, but even worse is when one of
us repeats this myth -- worst is when one of our managers says it. It doesn't
support our long-term interest to be cast as an organizational admission of
failure (that is, failure to produce the completely intuitive product). Is it
any wonder we're second-class citizens? And because I think it's simply
untrue, it follows that the statement is ignorant. What sometimes happens, as
has been reported in this newsgroup, is that some engineering manager tries to
achieve it, and ends up with an undocumented, unusable product.
(Unfortunately, I can also name product names.)

There -- I've gotten it off my chest. Does anyone agree? Or am I wrong, and
are there non-trivial intuitive programs out there?

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