A little light humour for a Friday…
The latest round of Ig Nobel Prizes was given out last night, and for those of us in communications the winner of the Ig Nobel for Literature was disconcertingly… well, practical (for an Ig Nobel).
The winning team studied whether or not people ‘read the field manual’ (other options for the F in this acronym are available, and perhaps more common). They produced a breakdown of who does and doesn’t read the manual, and what people prefer to do or use when they open the box on a new piece of technology. The short answer is that young people are leading the way in ignoring the manual, and everyone wants the way their products work to be self-evident, or to have set-up and help built into the device. In many cases this is already being achieved, with ‘Quick Start’ guides and procedures becoming the norm, and on devices with a screen a self-guided set-up built in. But does this mean that we don’t actually know how to use a lot of the features – the ones that aren’t ‘self-evident’? Well that’s what the other half of the paper is about, and if you want to know you’ll just have to read it yourself. Fortunately it’s open access: ‘Life is Too Short to RTFM: How users relate to documentation and excess features in consumer products’, by Interacting with Computers, Volume 28, Issue 1, 1 January 2016, Pages 27–46.
The researchers are getting at a very common problem – anyone who is reading this blog uses technology all the time, but doesn’t use it as well as they could. Few people know how to use more than the most basic features or the ten most common shortcuts of Word and Excel, or more than the ‘time’ button on their microwave – let alone the features of their smartphone or camera.
Personally, as a lapsed back-to-front reader of manuals, I would love to see manufacturers make the effort to produce an informative manual that is also a pleasure to read (or watch), even if it is online. I really miss them, and I don’t believe that it’s impossible to do it well.
What we need is an international prize for manuals. Tell me if it already exists!