Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
iRock, but how?
I recently bought an "iRock" adapter for my Apple iPod. The iRock is a battery-powered FM transmitter that allows you to broadcast from your audio device (the iPod, in my case) to a nearby FM radio. I bought it so I could listen to my MP3s in my car.
There's no documentation for the iRock. The only instructions are those printed on the package, and they're presented in a design and voice that makes them seem like easily-ignored marketing blather. The instructions consist of: Plug it into the headphone jack. Select a frequency. Tune your radio.
In reality, there are a few more steps. You have to install batteries and turn it on. I'm not sure if these were omitted based on instructional design principles (they're obvious), or because they make things seem to complicated, or both. I'm not suggesting that either is wrong, or right, but it's a choice you don't see made too often.
On the back of the package is a website URL to get more information. The URL is not emphasized, but it is obvious enough. After clicking through several layers of menus and confusing choices (they have more than one product named "iRock") I found the "real" documentation. Including the complete, boring, nine step process for installing batteries and otherwise setting up the device. You can also download a 3-page PDF-format manual.
There is also a lot of essential troubleshooting information at the site. Operating ranges, making sure the frequency you choose is unused, and how to high to set the volume control on the device you're using. How to tell when the battery is low. Common questions that real users will have after a few hours with the device.
Hooking up the iRock is a snap, I certainly didn't need any documentation for that, but the troubleshooting and operational hints are undiscoverable and definitely contribute to a better user experience. I'm not very pleased with the iRock's performance, but had I not discovered the tips at the site I would be even less happy. The principles of minimalist documentation suggest that troubleshooting is the most helpful information to provide, my experience with the iRock reinforce that theory.