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To all those who responded to my question regarding customer-site
Thank you for your input!
Here are some of the suggestions I received:
Make the customer aware that you're there because of THEM, that you need
to know how you can help THEM make the best use of the manuals. You
might start with the physical aspect of the manuals and then go on to
the heart of it:
Does everyone who needs access to the manuals have access? (Sometimes
the supervisor keeps them in his/her office and the people who could
make use of them never have a chance to do so.)
How is the size? Do they need to fold it back under to make a smaller
footprint due to lack of desk area when using them? (GBC binding would
Are they too big or unwieldy? (footprint or weight) If so, what would
be a useful size or division of the info from their viewpoint?
How easy is it for them to find things? How do they use the index?
How do they use them...by beginning at the beginning or as a reference
just to look something up when they need to?
What do they like about them? What would they change? How would they
How do they handle any addenda to the manuals? (if you issue any, that
Do they use the online help and manuals? What difficulties have they
had? What is lacking in the manuals? How do they use the software? What
do they like/dislike about the software?
Ask them about their background. Get a feel for the
educational/experience level of workers.
If you get a tour of the mfg process, don't feel dumb asking them to
explain it thoroughly. Ask detail questions: what does that machine do?
what kind of material is that part made out of? What kind of oil do you
use to lubricate the machines?
Many times, they'll get to talking and give you interesting tidbits of
information. The more you know about their business, the better
understanding you have of users later.
Read User and Task Analysis for Interface Design by JoAnn T. Hackos and
Janice C. Redish (Wiley, NY, 1998, 508pp, ISBN 0-471-17831-4)
Here's an excerpt from my review of it in the Mar/Apr IEEE Micro:
Hackos and Redish have written a practical book. They start from a piece
of advice that every designer has heard and most designers try to
understand your users and the tasks in which they use your product. This
is easy to say but hard to do. Hackos and Redish tell you how to do it.
They explain how to observe and interview users at their workplaces and
how to record and interpret the data you gather.
While the book is about how to conduct site visits, the visits
themselves occupy only two chapters. The bulk of the book deals with
advance=preparations and post-visit analysis.
Spend time with the users. Watch them at their jobs.
And look around. Do you see lots of little stickies with
job-related "reminder" kinds of notes? If so, you can
collect fodder for job aids or quickref cards.
Look at the books. Is there any sign that they've been open,
much less consulted? Look for dog-eared pages and
stickies. Lots of notes tend to mean that people have
to clarify information.
Be open about what you want. Invite them to tell you what
DOESN'T work for them - that's usually more valuable than
asking what they like about your stuff.
Make sure to follow up your visit with a written letter of
appreciate, and some token ... basket O bagels, company