User manual exhibit in NYC (trip report)

Subject: User manual exhibit in NYC (trip report)
From: Doug Fettig <DFettig -at- NYD -dot- LEGENT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 29 Mar 1994 10:06:00 PST

Heather Lum posted this query:

"The March 7 '94 US News & World Report says the Fashion Institute of
in Manhattan opened a user manual exhibition this month. The show includes
about 800 technical manuals and pieces of how-to literature from around the
world, created throughout this century.

My question: has anyone been to see the exhibit? If so, is it worth making a
six-hour car trip?

For the curious, the US News article is titled "The How-To-Do-It Show" and
describes intriguing highlights like a 600-VOLUME guide to the Fokker 100
series airplane, and a Soviet manual that explains how to dust nuclear
off your cow after a nuclear attack."

Thanks to her message, I went to the show this weekend. It was
an interesting experience, and here are some highlights.

The exhibit is somewhat small. There were about 30 display tables
in 2 rooms, and it took me 1 hour to tour. Each table displayed collections
of technical literature that was organized to show examples of using: color,
sequence, text and graphics, pictographs, size, and different media.

The exhibit is from the collection of Paul Mijksner, and it reflects
personal choices that such a collector might make. If you collected
technical instructions, which would you save? Probably the quirky, strange,
and bad--like most of what's in this show. This makes the show ironic,
funny, and slightly instructive. My favorites were braille instructions
for a talking watch, pictographic instructions for using "doggie doo bags,"
and the show catalog, which is itself a user manual in 3 languages.

There are several hands-on exhibits. One table is set up with various
instructions for tying ties and folding napkins. There are also two
cork boards for visitors to post their worst/favorite examples.

The biggest hands-on experience was the exhibit itself, and this really
showed Mijksner's sense of humor. The show catalog/user manual directs
the visitor through the sequence of display cases, imitating some classic
bad documentation techniques. There are mistakes in the translation,
pictographs, and an "update" to the catalog that provides notes and warnings
about late additions and errors in the sequence of display cases.

The exhibit is at FIT, 7th Ave and 27th Street, until April 30th.
If you do visit, be sure to hunt for display case 1.

Doug Fettig
dfettig -at- nyd -dot- legent -dot- com

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