How NOT to Provide Documentation

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Most of the world has become Apple fans, even those who don’t use Apple products. I thought about that last night, as I unpacked and provisioned my new Blackberry sent overnight from Verizon Wireless when my old phone died. (No, I can’t get decent AT&T service, so I can’t use an iPhone, the Android isn’t available in a dual-mode GSM version from Verizon, and I am a Crackberry addict). As I pulled all the doodads out of the Blackberry box, and dived into the manual in order to just learn how to put the battery in, get the device activated, and begin to figure out how to use it, I find myself muttering, “this sure isn’t from Apple.” Apple would have provided a simpler box of goodies and a one-page set of pictures and instructions that would show me the 4 steps I needed to take. Verizon and Blackberry expect me to wade thru the manual and figure out what’s in the box. The good news is that I am very happy with my new Blackberry Bold.

The bad news is that very few companies have figured out how to provide “get started” instructions or assembly instructions for the things we need in our lives. Apple does a good, but not perfect job. Their “getting started” documentation is great. But I have still been confused by what they take for granted when I try to use their devices.

The current trend in documentation is to provide picture-rich instructions that are universally understandable no matter what language you speak. This is great in theory. Graphics are attractive and accessible. They save a lot of money and time by preventing needless (and often bad) translations. But as you’ll note from reading Ronni Marshak’s article, there’s a problem with illustration-only instructions. Many of us are verbal, not graphical people. A set of complicated illustrations can be very confusing. Case in point, my husband and I spent 5 hours last Saturday assembling very well made and affordable bunk beds. But the other Amazon reviewers claim to have spent only 2 hours! We had to redo a number of things because there were no words or symbols explaining what you needed to pay particular attention to in doing the assembly. So we had to retrace our steps a couple of times. My brother loves video instructions. But he, too, complained bitterly when he and a buddy were trying to assemble his Endless Pool (indoor swimming lane) and the assembly instructions were in the form of a video. Imagine that you’re doing a plumbing job and you need to climb out of the enclosure and go rewatch that section of the video. (I guess that’s what iPads are for, but I don’t think you’d want to risk the potential damage by using it during your home fix-it project.) How do YOU like your instructions?? And how do you test them before you ship products to customers?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patricia Seybold
With 30 years of experience consulting to customer-centric executives in technology-aggressive businesses across many industries, Patricia Seybold is a visionary thought leader with the unique ability to spot the impact that technology enablement and customer behavior will have on business trends very early. Seybold provides customer-centric executives within Fortune 1 companies with strategic insights, technology guidance, and best practices.

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