Re: Online/print

Subject: Re: Online/print
From: Rick Lippincott <RJLIPPINCOTT -at- DELPHI -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 1994 06:18:29 -0400

On the continuing on-line vs. paper debate, Elna wrote about a particular
help system:

>It's glitzy, it's thorough, it's nonlinear, all the things a Help system
>should be. They're just not using it, and they're not even remembering
>their own actions from the training class where they used it before.

It's still early here on the east coast, and I haven't had my first cup of
coffee yet, but....

I suddenly recall a story that a fellow tech writer told me several times.
He'd been in the Navy right after high school, serving as an aircraft
mechanic on-board the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. It seems the F-4
Phantom fighter often underwent maintenance that involved removing access
panels on the wing upper surface and the fuselage. There was one particular
place on the wing where the mechanics would remove a panel to access parts,
and then finish the task by working on the fuselage. Due to the parts
locations, they'd end up standing in the "well" of the wing formed when they
removed the first panel. No problem, except that there was a hydraulic line
running along the bottom of the well, and the mechanics couldn't avoid
stepping on this line (which, of course, would damage the line and mandate
a replacement of the line). McDonnell Douglas and the Navy tried all sorts
of notes & cautions about the hydraulic line, in an effort to prevent
mechanics from stepping on it. No luck. They put big placards in the wing
interior, to remind the mechanics. No luck.
Finally, an engineer at McDonnell apparently said "Why don't we accept the
fact that the mechanic is going to be standing in the well, and re-route the
hydraulic line to a place where he doesn't step."

It worked.

What's my point? (Uhh, I had it here a minute ago...) If even -we- the
people who -write- on-line help are voicing problems, then maybe the problem
isn't in the users.

Maybe it's the way -we- (yeah, I'm guilty, too) are designing the on-line
help. Maybe that paradigm we've got on on-line structure doesn't work,
maybe it's based a little too much on theory and not enough on a user needs

Maybe we need to take a look at the way people use the on-line help, and
re-structure it so that the hydraulic line goes around the wing well.

Maybe I need to go fetch that coffee, but, whaddya think, gang?

Rick Lippincott
Eaton Semiconductor
rjlippincott -at- delphi -dot- com

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