user-friendly manuals

Subject: user-friendly manuals
From: Stan Brown <stbrown -at- NACS -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 28 Jan 1996 13:52:33 -0500

WandaJane Phillips <wandajp -at- ANDYNE -dot- ON -dot- CA> raises the question of
user-friendly manuals. (Ever notice that nothing is ever described as
user-hostile, even when it is? But that's another story.)

She deprecates the use of cartoon figures and other peppy stuff in a
manual, in part because "Marketing style belongs in marketing
documents." I agree with her conclusion, but not with that part of her
reason.

I think back to a Microsoft manual for, I think, the upgrade version
of DOS 6. It was chock full of cartoon-like drawings of a bird. Not
only did I feel annoyed at being talked down to (and that's the
impression I got, regardless of the actual content of the text), but I
kept seeing that damn bird out of the corner of my eye when I was
trying to concentrate on what little text there was.

(If I had a choice about whether to buy DOS, and I saw that bird in
marketing materials, I would be less inclined to buy. I wouldn't think
the product was friendly, I'd think it was childish.)

Colin Wheildon's book (about which I shall write more later) points
out that while colored headlines grab the reader's attention, they
detract materially from comprehension of the text. I expect the same
is true to an even greater degree for cartoons. The trouble with
eye-catching pictures is that once they catch the eye they tend not to
let go.

Regards,
Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems Cleveland, Ohio USA +1 216 371-0043
email: stbrown -at- nacs -dot- net Web: http://www.nacs.net/~stbrown


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