Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bad Devices? Or Bad Instructions?

Reuters has a story about how half of all product returns aren’t caused by a defect in the product. Unless you call making the product incomprehensible a defect.
A wave of versatile electronics gadgets has flooded the market in recent years, ranging from MP3 players and home cinema sets to media centers and wireless audio systems, but consumers still find it hard to install and use them.
According to the article, product developers and company managers are often unaware of the problem.

I find this study amusing because I work as a technical writer. It’s my job to try to write instructions for using various products, mostly programs acquired by the company I work for and customized in-house. I have to create the document that translates the designer’s idea into the customer’s action. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I think designers operate from an “easy to build and maintain” mindset, while customers would prefer that they think more in “easy to setup and use” terms. Of course, using the product seems easy to the developers, but why shouldn’t it? They designed it! They know everything about it!

I get frustrated because I usually don’t get a call until the development phase of the project is over. I’m supposed to write instructions for the finished product. The problem is that I never got a chance to see the product early in the development process, when I could have suggested ways to make the product easier to use (which would, of course, make the instructions easier to write).

If more company’s would bring their technical writers into the project earlier, I suspect that customer frustration with the product would be less of a problem.

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