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Stating the Obvious

Consider this packet containing a moist towlette that I picked up while getting some barbeque:

The directions are brief and fairly clear (although, they really could've taken out the word 'just'), but I get stuck on the word 'use'.  I immediately ask "use how?"  or "use on what?"  Therein lies the problem.  The makers of this towlette have absolutely no idea how the customer will use this product.  They offer some clear suggestions in the description: hands and face.  They also mention that it leaves skin soft and smooth, implying that it could be used on any skin.  Yet I could see using this for other things in a pinch, like cleaning off a rear-view mirror.

At this point, I classify this product as a tool.  And in light of the description, having directions on the packet is a little insulting, really.  This might even explain why the word 'just' snuck in there: maybe the copywriter was exasperated.  The writer could've just started with "THIS PACKET CONTAINS" and now the description encompasses the nugget of information that the user must open the packet to access the tool.

The best tools are the ones that are well-suited to many tasks and for which directions aren't strictly necessary.  Some tools that come to mind are stairs, screwdrivers, knives, sponges, and towels.

Now consider the software industry.  We manufacture tools that for the most part operate on pixels.  This is about as wide open as you can get, as far as toolsets are concerned.   As a company, we  produce tools that other developers use.  We would like that our tools can operate in a wide variety of environments with as little effort as possible on the part of the developer.  A lot of this is abiding by the principal of least astonishment, but some of it also trying to know when something is truly self-documenting or needs the help of some carefully placed words in the object reference, a how-to, sample code, demos and so on.

In the meantime, I invite you to download dotImage 4.0, install and use.  We're very proud of the work that went into this release.
Published Monday, September 11, 2006 10:32 AM by Steve Hawley


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