Re: The dangerous myth of the "completely intuitive product"

Subject: Re: The dangerous myth of the "completely intuitive product"
From: kendal stitzel <kensti -at- KENSTI -dot- AUTO-TROL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 5 Jan 1994 09:05:29 MST

<jong -at- tnpubs -dot- enet -dot- dec -dot- com>

> 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.

I agree. This myth recently made problems for me. People made the mistake of
believing a manager who said a product would be so intuitive that it wouldn't
need PAPER documentation (of course it would have a "robust" on-line help
system).Lo and behold as the deadline approached, the manager decided that
documentation looked pretty good after all. My department had to drop everything
to ride to the rescue.*

I used the final product a lot. The interface was pretty intuitive--AFTER I'd
gone to a training class (that also provided lots of documentation).

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

No one has named any yet.

Steven J. Owens writes:

> The answer is that somebody told you. Whether you learn it from personal
> instruction or from a manual, automobile operation and maintenance is
> most definitely NOT "intuitive".

Amen. When I had to document how to operate a robotic vehicle system installed
in a prison, there was no guarantee that the users could even read. We relied
on multiple levels of communication: training to teach the basics (rolling a
cart to a certain spot then waving a bar code wand over a picture on a map);
job cards on the map and inside the control boxes ("push button to request
vehicles," "red light means get help"); and in-depth technical manuals for
those who maintained the system.

> The only advantages automobile interfaces have is that they're largely
> uniform, so once you know one interface you pretty much know another
> interface for an automobile of that class. Go try driving an 18 wheeler,
> or a backhoe, or a combine harvester.

Or a railroad locomotive. Some users DO find some programs and interfaces
intuitive--AFTER using such things a lot. If you know your audience well enough
to safely make that assumption, fine. But you're looking for failure if you
provide software without documentation, no matter how good the interface is.

Yours in haste from a soapbox,

Ken Stitzel (no, no, not that d`Albenas guy--he's probably
kensti -at- auto-trol -dot- com still on vacation)

* all names have been changed to protect the guilty

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