Sunday, June 11, 2006

Why are manual publishers so spineless?

I just installed WillMaker Plus 2006 on my PC (hey, ya turn 50, you think of such things), and before I even looked at the manual - hey, it's nice to even get a manual on paper these days - I knew that if I turned it sideways - the way one puts a manual on a bookshelf - it would say... nothing.

And it does. I mean, it doesn't.

When in the name of Random House did makers of software/hardware/devices (cell phones for example) decide that even if a book is thick enough to have a spine, there should be no words on it to help people find the blasted thing later? Talk about lack of user-friendliness!

And there's another thing - why do folks like HP, who are in the same boat in terms of the Empty Spine Syndrome, also decide not to put everything in one manual, but instead to have two, three or four? Let's see, there's the Getting Started Guide, the PC Troubleshooting and System Recovery Guide, the Warranty and Support Guide, the PC Basics Guide, the Upgrading and Servicing Guide, the MONITOR Warranty and Support Guide....

Get the picture? Just try to figure out which has what. Of course, most of them are so thin, they are, well, spineless. And it may save them a dime or two, not to have to reprint everything when updating one of them, but ... c'mon folks, where's the usability in so many different guides to sort, stash, thumb through and, of course, lose the one you're looking for? (I will give them credit for putting them all in a zippered plastic bag, but... still...)

Oh, I know, its all on the PC, or on the CD/DVD, or online, so no worries! Poppycock and balderdash. If you're GONNA make paper manuals, which I do like, PLEASE make them useful and usable. And amongst all the useless shortcuts, desktop or start-menu-wise, why not create one to THE place online where all these manuals reside, in constantly updated fashion?

Dream on, I suppose. It's like asking why I need the French, Spanish and German version of every consumer manual I get. Not.

Still, if blogging is good for anything, it's good for venting.

So there!;-)


Jake said...

Generally, the reasoning I see for the multiple manuals is because of the multiple parts. Obviously the getting started manuals and the troubleshooting could be put in one (with a spine) but the monitor manual should be kept seperate because that monitor is probably included with a hundred computer configs.

But I agree about the lack of spine on a book -- I've got a CRAPLOAD of service manuals for all the parts and such that I have, and I've finally gotten to the point where I have to put them in file folder that I can then label because the original book didn't have a spine. I'm sure they're doing it because of cost, but cost-be-damned with usability is an issue.

Barney said...

Ah, Jake, thanks for reminding me of the OTHER point I meant to make about this - there is NO COST DIFFERENCE between a manual with a label on the spine and not! It is a micron more ink!! They already have to design the thing, and I cannot see HOW there's an added cost. There is NO excuse! Is there?

Barney said...

Oh, wait, you meant a cost of spine vs. no spine, OK, maybe so, but ... what's the excuse for books with spines that are unlabeled? None, nada, zipp;-)

Simone said...

Actually, Barn - producing a manual *with* a spine is quite a bit more expensive than one *without* a spine.

Mostly, it's a matter of the method with which the pages get bound together. If you have to produce a cover with a spine, the paper footprint is larger, and therefore printing it on the press becomes a step less efficient (and more expensive).

Also, gluing pages to a spine vs. a simple staple or similar is significantly more difficult.

How do I know all this? It used to be my job to produce manuals for small software companies. Later, I worked at a publishing house (as you know), and stuff like that tends to seep into common company knowledge if you've been there long enough ...

Now what really gets me is when companies (like Canon, for example) include Spanish or French manuals in with their products. In *addition* to the English manual, mind you.

Don't they know that Americans can only read ONE language - namely, English?

Barney said...

Point taken, Simone- but what of my original issue - the lack of helpful labeling ON the spine?

I mean, even in other languages, the manufacturer and name of the software (or the model number of the camera, etc.) should be close enough that even one English label would at least help discern what document is inside, when placed on a bookshelf.

I surely hope the language issue isn't what's behind the dropping of such helpful spine labeling. That would be a shame - sort of like mowing down the mountains to achieve ADA compatibility;-)

Dave Eaton said...

I am a freelance computer programmer who occassionally needs to install hardware in my computer with tech support; also I have to occasionally write documentation to support the code I produce. None of my documentation has ever been for public use, but still I think I can see something of both sides of the issue.

The question is, will the consumer remember more that he got a high quality manual, or that he had to pay a little extra? My experience in working for companies producing retail software, along with my view of human nature, suggests the consumer will demand the lower price without considering they are going to get what they are willing to pay for.

Personally, I'd prefer to see manual have its name on the spine, but I guess I'm not too hopeful it's going to improve.

Anonymous said...

Hey Barney, why don't you write something about all the different media players -- and all the different versions -- one has to download in order to be able to play the various audio and video clips on the web? It seems that almost every time I try to play one I get a message telling me I need to download the latest version of whatever to play it. Why can't these things be at least somewhat standardized?