Re: Elegance

Subject: Re: Elegance
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Sun, 3 May 1998 12:49:19 +0800

Janice Gelb said:
> Much as it pains me, I have to say that although we would *like* to
> think that the quality of documentation and support is an important
> factor in why customers buy a product, I think the real reason is
> that they need to do a job that the software enables them to do.
> Even if the manual or the support are bad, they will buy the software
> anyway if they need the capabilities it provides [snip...]

There's a difference between customer and user. I would think most
software is used by people who didn't have much say in its purchase,
either because it was chosen by their employer or it came preloaded
on their PC.

Leaving that aside though, I think you're probably right in the case
of 'personal' products. But aren't most sizable software purchases
(RDBMS, compiler, OS, etc.) evaluated pretty thoroughly on a whole
range of factors apart from the list of features, including the quality
of the documentation and support?

> If the software is inconsistent and confusing to use, a great manual
> describing it is not going to make the product consistent, easy to
> learn and easy to use.

As you say in the previous snippet, they buy the product to help them
do a job. If they can't do the job with the software, but they can do
the job with the help of the documentation, then the documentation has
improved the product.

> Even as a person in the technical communication field, if I had to
> choose between elegant, consistent, easy-to-use software with crummy
> documentation and confusing, inconsistent, difficult-to-learn software
> with great documentation, I'd definitely choose the former.

Sure, but I don't see it as either-or. The software _should_ be great
and the documentation _should_ be great, but usually we techwhirlers
only have control over the documentation. If the software is lousy
we should we should use the docs to bring the product up to the level
where it's usable for the purpose for which the customer bought it.

If the software is excellent we should look for opportunities to make
the product outstanding. Easier said than done, of course.

Stuart Burnfield
Senior Product Meliorist
Functional Software Pty Ltd
mailto:slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au

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