Tuesday, August 15, 2006

New Life for Product Documentation

On reading the manual...

"Here are some “truths” we’ve all heard: “Documentation is just a band-aid for poor design.” “Real users don’t read manuals.” “Super users never read anything.” “Help doesn’t.”

But are they really true? I’ve seen some signs of life in the use of documentation for digital products recently.
“I need it when I do something new.”

In a usability test of some small business financial software programs, we all froze when one participant reached for a fat manual. We were all wondering whether the rest of the session would be spent watching him read through the book, looking for an answer. Amazingly, it didn’t. Within a few minutes, he had found the answer and used it to successfully solve the problem he’d been stuck on.

Discussing this at the next break, we realized that we’d seen many of the participants using the online Help and How To… tips. They turned to them when they got stuck and couldn’t figure out the next step in a task, but mostly, they used them when they tried something new. We started asking about their use of Help. Was it just something they were doing during the test, or was it how they worked in their own offices? In retrospect, the answers were not surprising:
Business owners used Help because asking their accountant—a consultant, not an employee—for help cost them time and money. They used this type of software to gain more independence and wanted to figure things out for themselves.
Bookkeepers told us that, even though there were other people in the office, this was their area of expertise. They didn’t have anyone to turn to and needed the software to provide on-the-spot instructions when they needed help.

Both groups considered accounting “hard”—that is, something that required training. But they expected—or hoped—that the software itself would provide that training as they needed it. In addition, accounting is very procedural, and both groups were looking for recipes—the right sequence of actions for performing their work correctly."   (Continued via UXMatters)   [Usability Resources]

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