Last week, (5/9), I wrote that a squirrel had chewed through a power line outside my home, creating a huge electrical surge. I don’t know what became of the squirrel but it fried much of my electronic equipment. As I complained then, reading the manuals that came with the replacements required not only a degree in engineering but the ability to read minds. A week later, I was still struggling with an inscrutable manual for the landline telephone.
Since I like to keep life simple, I don’t use many features that come with the machine. All I wanted to do was program the date and time so I’d know when friends had called. The instructions seemed straightforward. I punched in the correct numerals, then looked for the “save” button. I couldn’t find it anywhere, not on the phone nor in the manual’s diagrams. I dialed the long distance “help” number provided and listened to a canned message. None of the options applied. I hung up and dialed the two remaining numbers listed. Both took me to the same message.
Frustrated, I screamed into the phone’s speaker: “I want to talk to a human.” To my surprise, a voice answered. It told me the “save” button and the “off” button are one in the same. The voice went on to inform me that if I’d read the “caller ID” section of the manual, I’d have discovered that fact.
But I don’t have caller ID, I said to myself, so why would I look there? I didn’t argue. I was happy to have my question answered and hung up.
My point is that manuals are often written without regard to how they are used. A robot might happily scan all the contents of a manual from beginning to end, but most humans won’t. Humans will look for what’s relevant.
David Kelley, a major designer for Apple, agrees with me. His first commandment to his students at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford is, “That the most important thing in business is to be human centered. (“Bringing Design to Corporate America, by Dinah Eng, Fortune, April 29, 2013, pg 28.) He’s written a book on the subject, Creative Potential Within Us All which will be published this October. It’s one manual every manual writer should read…from beginning to end.
(Courtesy of www.thisismoney.co.uk)