Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Help would be nice, if I had time
Dean Takahashi, writing Help With Digital Breakdowns for the San Jose Mercury-News proclaims that "technology moves too fast to slow down and figure out how to use something." Takahashi is bothered by a TiVo that fills up too quickly, printers that plead (incorrectly) for new ink cartridges, and an incomplete installation of software that peppers his screen with error dialogs every time he turns on his computer.
He doesn't have time to seek solutions, but is optimistic that the user's guides would help if he consulted them -- "I figure spending five minutes with the manual ought to fix a lot of my problems. But that's just not my idea of fun these days."
Help authors, you've been given a challenge. Go read his article and see if the documentation that you write or design today would assist, or hinder, his pursuit of technical peace and quiet. While I appreciate that he gives us the benefit of the doubt, having read (and written) a lot of documentation I suspect that the bugs, misanthropic features, and cross-product conflicts he describes are unlikely to be addressed by the documentation. But Takahasi, and millions of customers like him, are counting on the answers to be there when they finally reach their breaking point. Will you let them down?