Attacking the manual!

Subject: Attacking the manual!
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998 13:51:58 -0600

Michael Burke wondered how to respond to a competitor's ad that
slammed the need for a manual in his product.

<dons devil's advocate cap>

First off, if the ad is truly misleading and could be construed as
damaging to your company, it might be worth calling in the lawyers
and coercing the competitor into publishing a public, very
visible retraction. Not that I'm advocating you encourage this, mind
you, but this sort of thing has been known to happen and it's a
useful reminder to the marketgeeks that there are rules they have to

Second, although I'm a techwhirler and editor myself, I'm afraid I
have to agree with the competitors. Nobody I've met buys a product to
use the manual, and the holy grail of product design is to produce
something so intuitive that no manual is necessary. (Think "door",
"pen", "coffee mug", etc.) Speaking as a user of products rather than
as a professional creator of their manuals, I eagerly look forward to
the day when manuals and help systems are completely unnecessary.
Should that day come, we'll all be off doing product usability work,
or producing interesting reference or marketing material (see above)
instead of drafting task-based instruction. Personally, I'm not
losing any sleep over the imminent loss of my techwhirling career,
but speaking once again as a user of products, it would be a good
thing for the world if there were no longer any jobs required for
writers of technical documentation.

</da cap>

That being said, it's clear that any reasonably complex and powerful
product will always require some form of instructions for users;
whether that instruction takes the form of written documentation,
online help, or "affordances" built into the interface is pretty much
irrelevant, because all are the kinds of communication we excel at
creating. Remember, in the final analysis, we're user advocates
(there's that word again!), not producers of manuals.
--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Hart's corollary to Murphy's law: "Occasionally, things really do work right."

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