Re: TECHWR-L Digest - 26 Jan 1997 to 27 Jan 1997

Subject: Re: TECHWR-L Digest - 26 Jan 1997 to 27 Jan 1997
From: David Farkas <farkas -at- U -dot- WASHINGTON -dot- EDU>
Date: Wed, 29 Jan 1997 08:58:18 -0800

If you're looking for a good minimalism parable, I'd suggest recalling the
old warning on matchbooks: "Close cover before striking."

This message assumes that the intended audience knows something about the
product (that matchbooks contain matches and that you strike them against
the abrasive strip) and is willing to engage in some inferencing and
problem solving (for example, that the risk here is getting burned).
Minimalism has more to do with assuming users are willing to engage in a
certain amount of inferencing and problem solving than simply cutting
words. The problem with minimalism is being sure you aren't requiring
users to engage in more inferencing and problem-solving than they are
prepared for--especially when your audience consists of people with
different backgrounds.

A non-minimalist version of the warning might be this:

When you have pulled the match from the match book, close the matchbook
cover before striking the match on the abrasive strip in order to
eliminate the chance of burning yourself.

There are things here that reasonable adults don't need to be told,
that people can simply infer from the four-word version of the message.

One more thought: although I like "Close cover before striking," it
probably got written this way because or the limited space on matchbooks.
Maybe that's OK, but we shouldn't let page count or file
size limitations be the main driver of minimalism. For example, the
"minimalist" help system for the Windows 95 operating system was driven by
a 1 MB maximum file size demanded by management.

Dave Farkas

David K. Farkas
Dept. of Technical Communication
College of Engineering
Box 352195
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195-2195

farkas -at- u -dot- washington -dot- edu
(206) 685-8659

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