University of Kansas
The genesis for this article came about when a friend of mine gave me a super 8 movie camera she had bought at a garage sale. She gave it to me with the admonition that if I did not use it I had to give it back to her. She did not however, specify how I had to use it. Inside the box was the camera and some batteries and carefully tucked between the side of the box and the packing material, was a set of meticulous handwritten instructions for loading the film. They were very well done and clear. My mind filled with images of the person who owned the camera including their own instructions and why they felt the need to do this. With this one example I became aware that we are surrounded at work and sometimes even in our homes with other instances where people have found it necessary to write their own instructions. They ran the gamut from the near perfection of the camera instructions to the note above my physical therapist's whirlpool, which seemed to instruct the user to drain and fill the tub at the same time.
A careful analysis of why people feel the need to write these instructions will be an insight into the design problems of the various products. It will also provide valuable examples of what must be avoided in design to insure ease of use and intuitive controls.