In Pursuit of the Perfect ManualRainyDay.jpg

My user doesn’t understand me

When it comes to mobile phones, there are those people who immediately begin exploring the user's manuals for their new devices. Then there are those who don't.

Ivan Matanovic works as an editor in the department responsible for user documentation at Ericsson in Lund, Sweden. He has the difficult job of ensuring that different types of people find the user's manuals for their phones or pocket computers appealing and informative. Based on a grouping of users in five different segments - the "Take Five" model - Ericsson has studied how various types of people perceive and use the manuals.

"We had two objectives," says Matanovic. "The first was to define the perfect manual. The other was to determine whether the various groups use the manual in different ways."

"Take Five" model groups consumers into five categories: Pioneers, achievers, materialists, sociables and traditionalists. The study revealed that pioneers, achievers and materialists reacted similarly. Sociables and traditionalists, on the other hand, were practically identical, and Matanovic groups them as one under the category "sociables."

Clear and concise information

Pioneers are often interested in technology and have advanced skills, the study found. They want to test new functions and learn through experimentation. "They ignore the handbook and keep trying until it works," explains Matanovic. "Only when they get stuck do they consult the manual, and then they want clear information directly. A pioneer will accept the manual only for support."

Achievers take this attitude one step further and almost ridicule the manuals, at least until they are forced to use them. "When they finally consult the manual, they read it thoroughly," says Matanovic. "They want to learn everything and understand the problem."

To materialists, it is important that the phone be visible and that they be seen using it. They are impatient and want to get started quickly. "They do not want any unnecessary information. They want as little text as possible and plenty of illustrations and symbols to guide them," says Matanovic. "They tend to become irritated if they have to take detours."

Cautious sociables

The differences among these three groups lie primarily in their behaviour as consumers: when they decide to buy a product, which model they choose and how they use the phone. Sociables, on the other hand, are quite different in their approach to user's manuals.

"They are the least afraid of contacting other users and asking, 'How do I do this?"' relates Matanovic. "Users in this group don't care about technology. They are cautious and read nearly everything in the manual so that they are sure that they are doing the right thing and that they will not break the phone.

"At the same time, they are curious about its functions. They want to read about the benefits of the various functions, not simply learn how to use them."

Finally then, there are the technophobic traditionalists. What can Ericsson do to reach them? "You have to start by asking if they will buy a mobile phone in the first place. If they do, the manual will come to their rescue," Matanovic says.

At the same time, there are consumers who find it difficult to use both the product and the manual.

"That's why we try to find common ground, without being too detailed," says Matanovic. "We want to help those who have the least skills. Others will be able to be selective and identify the information they need.

"For the more technically oriented users, we are trying to provide clearer contents and index pages. When these users have a need for information, they should he able to find it quickly and easily."

People care more about user's manuals than one might think. Still, Matanovic and his colleagues have a relatively thankless job. "I don't think there is anyone who likes manuals," he says. "Consulting the manual is like admitting defeat. We cannot fool ourselves on that point."

Taken from: Voice 6 / 1998, Written by: Lars Wirtén

'Half a man's life is devoted to what he calls improvements, yet the original had some quality which is lost in the process.' - E. B. White, American author (1899-1985)