F1 Please

F1 = the universal keyboard shortcut for "Help" in an application. 

How often do you read documentation on a new product? How would you classify yourself?
A) Someone who always reads or scans documentation first
B) Someone that reads documentation only after trying to figure it out first
C) Someone who never reads documentation

I suspect that most of us fall into the "B" classification.  Now if we break down the question into product type our classifications may vary greatly.  For instance, consider the following product types and how you would clasify yourself for each type:

1) End user software application
2) End user hardware device
3) Back end or server application
4) Back end hardware appliance

With end user software and hardware products we expect the interfaces to be intuitive.  We expect to be able to figure out 90% or more of the features we need by just using the product.  However, if this is a back end product supporting multiple users, it then becomes perhaps more critical to read the documentation to become familiar with all the product capabilities and proper deployment techniques even though the interface might still appear intuitive. 

Some interfaces really do a terrific job of documenting features with tooltips or similar means without forcing the user to press F1 or search for through documentation.  This inline type of documentation is a great way to go for end user applicaitons.  Even some back end administrative applications have found areas to implement inline documentation effectively.  However, I’m not convinced that inline documentation can replace all aspects documentation.  There is still a place for getting started guides, developer application notes, environment specific implementation procedures, and a handful of other types of docs.  One thing is for sure, no one wants the paper clip (from MS Office 97) to be the gateway to critical resources.

Have a great weekend!

Peter Nees – one of the few not on facebook