Dan Silverman doesn’t like his Avaya desktop phone1 very much. He explains how its cryptic buttons don’t really provide enough information to make sense of their function. He also includes this gem on what happens when industrial design fails (which is almost always, to some extent):
Yes, in the case of electronic devices, the design should intuitively convey how it works without the need for a manual. But if the design is bad, a manual is the next best thing.
Writing the manual or the help should be integral to the process of design and not left until the end (or worse, after the product ships). Good manuals and help can indeed be the next best thing to an inspired design and make products far more usable.
1see how I invented a new phrase to describe an old thing based on the way we do things now?