Downsizing (literally) the manuals: some results

Subject: Downsizing (literally) the manuals: some results
From: Ron Rothbart <ron -dot- rothbart -at- DOCUMENTUM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 24 Dec 1997 15:51:29 +0800

A couple of weeks ago I posted a question about the costs and benefits of
downsizing manuals from 8.5 x 11 to 7 x 9 inches or thereabouts (7.5 x 9
seems the most common size). I said that someone from marketing was asking
me for some hard data.

I also asked a colleague in our Usability group to post a similar question
to utest, the usability testing mailing list.

We got a lot of interesting responses. I appreciated all of them, but only
two or three, all from utest, really qualify as the kind of "data" that
marketing was looking for. FYI, here they are:

>From: "Betsy Comstock"<Betsy_Comstock -at- Pictel -dot- com>
>Date: Fri, 12 Dec 1997 13:01:47 -0500
>In 1987, Anne Clemens and I published one small field study of customer
>perceptions of Digital's computer manuals. (Annual Meeting of the Human
>Factors Society, 1987, 139-143.) One of the findings of this study was a
>preference for the smaller format over the traditional 8.5 x 11 format.
>Reasons were based on use -- the need to carry the manuals around, to use
>them while standing up, and to use more than one at a time.
>As with most field studies, one of my strongest memories was something we
>didn't set out to discover, but just noticed -- and that was the ways
>people tended to organize their bookshelves. SIZE was one of the strongest
>organizing principles (to optimize bookshelf efficiency, I guess). People
>would put manuals together because they were the same size, not necessarily
>because they were topically related. They also used binding type, color,
>and vendor to arrange their books. This meant that extensive sets of
>reference manuals that included some big books and some smaller books (or
>some binders and some bound) were often not arraged near each other, making
>it harder for people to scan to locate the manual they wanted.
>Hope this helps,


>Date: Fri, 12 Dec 1997 14:19:20 -0800
>From: Trevor Grayling <trevor -at- mdli -dot- com>
>Several years ago, we similarly reduced the size of our end-user manuals
>from 8.5 x 11 (in 3-ring binders) to 7 x 9 (perfect bound). This was in
>response to a phone survey of 50 of our end users, which asked about the
>size of the documentation (among many other issues). Users overwhelmingly
>did not like the large manuals. The main criticism was that they take up
>more than half your desk when open and were heavy and awkward to handle.
>After we changed to 7 x 9, we did a similar survey. This time, users liked
>the new size. More accurately, it had become a non-issue: Many users were
>puzzled that we asked the question.
>Note that we still use 8.5 x 11 for our System Administrator manuals.
>Trevor Grayling
>MDL Information Systems, Inc.
>San Leandro, CA


>Date: Fri, 12 Dec 1997 08:17:40 -0500 (EST)
>From: Diane Lewis <lewis -at- virtualprototypes -dot- ca>
>A few years ago, we changed the dimensions of our manuals from 8.5"x11" to
>7"x9.5. We did it because our customers were complaining that the manuals
>took up too much space on their desks and/or shelves, and could not easily
>be brought home in a briefcase.
>At a recent User's Conference, some of the same customers told us they are
>much happier with the smaller format., or

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