Friday, June 25, 2004

Finding the Hidden Features

Looking for the Eureka! Button, Katie Hafner describes a problem common among users of computers and other gadgets: our technology is becoming increasingly cool, increasingly feature-rich. "That's great," you say, "what's the problem?" Well, as manufacturers jam more and more functionality into products they also provide less and less in the way of documentation, especially the print kind. From a cost-cutting perspective, this makes sense: paper is expensive, and heavy manuals increase shipping costs. Yes, we've got it. And how many people would really wade through an extensive manual anyway? I know I wouldn't have read a phonebook-sized user's guide of one had come with our recently-purchased desktop.

On the other hand, sometimes even the online help won't let users discover all the tips, tricks, tools, and shortcuts loaded onto their gear. The article talks about MS's usability labs and efforts at increasing "discoverability," but there really has to be a better way, doesn't there? Because all the usability testing Microsoft has done hasn't really resulted in a greatly improved interface design, at least not with regard to discoverability of new/improved features. Yes, the GUI for XP is better, and as a recent convert from Windows ME, I really do appreciate this (even though I much prefer Mac interfaces - they present a look, feel, and user experience that are sleek, intuitive, and pleasurable by comparison - but that's me).


All of this, the article notes, has driven people to the help books, which have become a nice source of income for some writers. And so we get the phonebook-sized manual anyway, but we have to go out and pay for it. Or we learn from our friends, who learned from their friends, inspiring an oral tradition centered around our technophilic lifestyles. Which I find appropriately ironic, but still frustrating.

- posted by laurie @ 6/25/2004 11:34:00 AM
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