Think Inside the Box

I saw this video today demoing a very interesting user manual concept. Essentially, the manual wraps around a device with queues to manipulate the actual device, rather than some screenshots or photos. Basically the manual is more of a physical template (or jig, since I’m using template in the craftsman sense).

Out of the box from Vitamins on Vimeo.

However, I can’t think of a worse device to apply this idea to than a touchscreen smartphone.

Let me explain: I’ve been using an Apple iPhone for about the past four years now1. As much as I initially opposed the idea, Apple was correct in taking things like the SIM card and phone battery out of the hands of the user2. It’s a far superior user experience to design those out of the experience all together, in my opinion. That being said, if you’re going to force your user into awkward set-up necessities, this is about as painless a way to do it as possible. I can image some layered gadget packaging where each section the user opens, they are presented with the next step in setup or assembly (would work great for Ikea products, too!).

Now, as for instructing the user how to do anything on the phone: with a generous sized touch screen, there’s simply no reason why all of these instructions can’t just present themselves on the screen. My favorite apps on th the iPhone are those where the instructions appear as modal dialogs pointing to the most-used features. Add’l help can get included to, but the top two or three tools are called out as soon as the app launches, making any user almost instantly proficient.

So, as much as I like this concept, I’d much rather see all of this inside the box—er, phone—than in some bulky, physical thing that isn’t going to be with you at all times.

In short: I think the manual for a smart phone should simply be one short sentence: Push the power button.

Via Johne Cook, by way of Bill Swallow & Ray Gallon

  1. Yes, this is the part where I start coming off as an Apple fan boy, but bear with me… it applies to any smartphone or other touch-screen device
  2. Sure, you can still get to the SIM card on an iPhone, but compared to any other phone, it holds virtually no data beyond the user’s account credentials or phone number.

4 thoughts on “Think Inside the Box

  1. I’ve been using an iPhone for years and I love it. BUT – I bought David Pogue’s missing manuals because there are lots of “hidden” features that you just have to either stumble onto or be told about.

    Good UX practice says never hide a feature from the users, but it’s done all the time.

  2. It’s true that there are some buried features of the iPhone, even after several OS revisions. However, I do think there has to be some sacrifices made on a relatively small screen size (versus, a tablet screen, for example).

    I’m all for exposing features to users, but they should only be exposed when they’re needed and hidden otherwise. That’s easy to say but tough to do, of course. I think iOS and Microsoft’s Ribbon are the best examples of getting close to that goal, though.

  3. Screen size has nothing to do with it. Sure, you can’t put everything on the screen. That’s why there’s a manual. Just that Apple doesn’t do one. Or, they do, but you have to know where to get it.

    As for Microsoft’s Ribbon – I rather like the ribbon concept, but hate MS’ implementation of it, though it’s better in Office 2010, especially since you can customize it.

    MS has consistently taken a kind of “big brotherly” attitude in its software, assuming it knows what I want more than I do, and insisting that I get that, and I resent it, even as MS has improved its overall UX.

    Apple, on the other hand, has had great UX from the start, but also hides stuff, and often neglects to give useful feedback – like whether you modem is actually sending and receiving (MS removed this in Win 7, alas) or whether you disk is being accessed. These are very useful at specific times in the live of a computer user.

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