Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Printed user manuals

While I was helping out with the end-of-year clean-up, I opened several dusty boxes of old MISys manuals. The job I was assigned was to strip out the white paper for the recycling bin and toss the 5" plastic binders in the dumper. This got me thinking about all the people we'd sold printed manuals to and the requests I still get for a printed MISys manual.

We've sold quite a few printed manuals (a stack of paper about 4 inches thick weighing just over 14 pounds) over the years, but not nearly enough to cover the cost of printing, binding, and shipping. Many years ago, we decided to call an end to the production of printed documents and rely on a [hopefully] well-written User Guide built into the software. In my mind, the electronic User Guide was superior because it featured contextual links to the program (press F1 for Help), an extensive index, full-text keyword search capabilities, and extensive hypertext links (click here for more...). Plus, you could print out selected topics for exciting reading on the train or at home.

Before the warehouse clean-up, I hadn't been thinking much about printed manuals. Except that my wife, who is an avid reader, shuns my iPad while I, hardly a recreational reader, have discovered a whole new world in the iBooks library. This tells me that, despite all the advances in technology and preceived benefits of electronic documentation, there are people (some of them MISys software users) for whom a lapful of paper is really the best way to learn.

In the coming months, I'm going to be mulling over all the best ways to help our customers learn the ins and outs of the MISys manufacturing software. Unlike software that you can learn to use by just wandering around, MISys is big and complex -- and it deals with a subject that confounds many people who don't own any software.

Printed manuals, electronics documents, instructional videos. How do you think you learn best?

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