The user experience of user manuals
My wife and I recently received a wonderful gift: an electric juicer. Normally, I fight to keep contraptions like this off our kitchen counters, which I view as workspace, not storage or display. But the juicer is a really neat machine (albeit a bitch to clean). Here it is:
Great piece of kitchen kit!
Our friends brought along a whole shopping basket full of berries, apples, oranges, limes, red beets, ginger, celery, and other goodies to stuff down its plastic gullet. But what was the best way to combine them? I needed some advice.
Alas, the user manual looked like a thousand other user manuals:
- exploded diagram showing all the parts
- lots of warnings to unplug the unit before doing anything (except using it)
- "Make sure unit is plugged in"
So much for creating a good experience...
What's wrong with this picture?"
Having created a great product, why didn't the manufacturer, OBH Nordica, try to inspire me? Why didn't they include a couple of simple recipes to get me started? Why didn't they tell me about how this monster conserves vitamins and gets them from their
mechanism to my
metabolism? Why didn't they follow through and help me complete the experience they were helping to create?
"That's what our advertisements are for," explained the myopic marketing maven I spoke with.
The sale is NEVER closed!
It's a big mistake to assume that once the sale is made, everyone will be happy. In fact, several software producers have asked us to help their customers get better results from their products. Lousy implementation will kill any product, no matter how well-designed it is. Right now, my twisted mind is wondering what would happen if I stuffed oysters into our shiny new juicer...
"Nobody ever reads the user manual"
Wrong! We might ignore a user manual if you also give us a well-written "Quick start" guide. But most people glance through the real user manual at some point - particularly for devices that feature:
- moving parts that need maintenance (cars, lawnmowers, sewing machines, etc.)
- disposable/replaceable bits and pieces (vacuum cleaners, coffee machines)
- bizarre behaviour when you push a particular button
And folks will always
read the manual if your product's user-UN-friendly interface is particularly antisocial. My Danfoss ECL Comfort 200 home heating controller, for example.
The exception is Sandberg
I recently bought a USB hub. Naturally, it came with a user manual. Here's the EU-friendly cover - featuring all the flags of all the languages in which the manual was printed:
Cover of the Sandberg USB-hub instructions
Now, as this is basically supposed to be a plug-and-play device, I was sorry to see that Sandberg thought a user manual was necessary. So imagine my delight when I opened it up:
What a delightful surprise! Very cute, indeed.
The Sandberg people apparently felt that a user manual was as unnecessary as I did. So they turned the whole thing into a joke - boring cover, but with useful suggestions inside. Great. I'm a fan. Sandberg is a brand I will look for in the future.
And that makes user manuals part of the business model (wink, wink)
What is YOUR product?
Nokia's "PC Suite" software is arguably the most distributed in the world. But it crashes many computers. Apple's iPad and iPod are slick physical objects and the user interfaces are pretty good as these things go. Yet iTunes (the software key needed to get anything into these devices) ranks as one of the worst programs I've ever used. Sears Kenmore vacuum cleaners are great, but the bags are pretty much only available from Sears, which usually means driving quite a distance (I couldn't find the "replacement part number" I needed on their website - or even at the outlet store to which I was sent).
In short, don't think that you can get by with a great product. Your documentation and support mechanisms are key parts of the entire use-experience scenario.