Nokia’s David Black provided an excellent opening keynote presentation at the TCUK 2010 conference, where he described the documentation produced by Nokia and predicted a bleak outlook for all but the most technical of Technical Authors.
David’s team works mostly on developing information for developers and partners, rather than end users. He revealed that 50% of all reported defects were due to inappropriate use of code – code that wasn’t documented. He also explained that if the documents led to a reduction of just 1 in 10,000 defects, then it paid for his department’s budget for the year.
Although he felt no-one but Technical Authors had the answers to how to understand complexity and failure, he believed that products would become so intuitive, and people would be so technically adept, that there would be no need in the future for end-user documentation.
This idea of a product that is “so intuitive anyone can use it” is like the “product that sells itself” – a rare beast. Often, we need marketing and sales professionals to explain what a product means to us, and we need information to explain how to use something once we have it.
I argue there will still be a need to explain technical stuff to non-technical people. This may not be true for mobile phones, as they are used for hours on end every day. Where you are explaining technical stuff to technical people, then David is on the button. However, in most cases, there will still be a need to explain technical stuff to non-technical people. The popularity of “For dummies” and “missing manual” guides shows there’s an appetite for simple explanations.
Kevin Kelly wrote for the New York Times Magazine recently about achieving techno-literacy. Here are some quotes from his article:
“Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.
Before you can master a device, program or invention, it will be superseded; you will always be a beginner. Get good at it.
Every technology is biased by its embedded defaults: what does it assume?
Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for.”
Do you think David is right?