Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Missing one small (but vital) step

As anyone who has heard me speak recently will be aware, I'm a big fan of providing minimalist documentation that helps answer the basic question - "HOW?"

How do I make this work?
How do I connect this?
How do I complete this task?

But when I say minimalist, I don't mean badly designed or written - in fact I would argue that the sort of documentation I advocate needs to be better written and designed than the traditional 'owners manual' approach.

In a recent tweet, well known industry consultant, Scott Abel posted

Most people don't want a user manual; they want usable, managable instructions for the task they are doing.

I totally agree.

I often cite a slim 16 page booklet that I received as part of a network router package as one of the best designed pieces of documentation I have ever used as it combines, good use of language with color, simplified clear illustrations and even the physical design of the booklet to quickly and simply answer the question of 'How do I connect this thing up and get my wireless network running?'

Then last night I ended up installing a different wireless router from another manufacturer, which on the surface appeared to be taking a similar, minimal documentation route, but with not quite the same results.

This new router was shipped with no printed documentation, just a CD in a paper sleeve with the words "Start Here" emblazoned on the sleeve.

Once installed a couple of clicks opened up the installation guide - a short, well illustrated, 5 page document.

Looking good so far - but then I scanned down to read the instructions, and saw this.


mmmm - see the problem?

You only provide instructions as a PDF on a CD and the first thing you ask me to do is to turn off the device I use to read those instructions. - Not so clever.

The inclusion of another small, but vital, instruction step saying


could solve that usability issue.

So think about this - if you are going to produce a minimal documentation set - then at least think about how, and where it is going to be used.

Getting Started type guides will probably always be best as a printed document, which could be anything from a single sheet checklist to a small booklet. But remember you need to apply more thought about design, graphics, language, and usability.

No comments: