Thursday, March 09, 2006

A four year old child could do this. Go out and get me a four year old child.

One of these days I'm going to buy something that needs to be put together and I will open up the instruction manual and fall back amazed as Moses by the burning bush.

I don't expect it will be the voice of God speaking to me, exactly, but the voice of some technical writer adressing me in language as clear and direct as the Lord used with Moses when He instructed him to go to the Pharoah and say Let My People Go.

Insert Tab A into Tab B, will spaketh the technical writer, and Lo! Tab A will inserteth itself thusly, just as the badly-drawn and microscopically-scaled diagram showeth. What's more, I will know exactly what Tab A is and what it is supposed to doeth once it has been joinedeth with Tab B.

That day is as far away as the Second Coming, I fear, and though I may glimpse the Promised Land, I may not enter it with you, as I have sinned like Moses who struck the rock twice---I have whacked Tab A with a hammer a hundred times to force it into Tab B.

RTFM, the prophet said, but how often does that actually help?

Instruction manuals are written in code or Tagalog translated into French translated into Russian translated into Japanese translated into English by computers programmed by monkeys.


But as as someone who has spent far too much time assembling furniture, putting together new toys, and plugging in new electronic devices, I have come to believe that it isn't that instructions are poorly written, it's that they are often trying to describe a process that just doesn't make any sense.

Product designers and engineers must all be from another planet which would explain why they have no clue how human beings think or function or use tools.

And they don't ever do things their products are meant to be used to do so they don't keep in mind notions like the products they design should be easy to use or even actually work when they design them.

I've written before about how there is a special place in hell for engineers who spend their lives designing things that cannot be used the way non-engineers use them.

Hell, I've said, will be crowded with engineers and product designers.

But like every red-blooded American male with a college education and a desk job I secretly despise myself for my incompetence with tools and machinery. I say and write stuff like all the above and curse the designers and engineers as I struggle into the third hour trying to assemble another new chair the blonde's bought from IKEA or Target just to humiliate me and put me in my place, because she knows.

The truth is, however, that in my heart I know it's my fault, my failure, my incompetence.

I'm not a real guy.

A real guy would have that chair together and holding up a full-grown adult without a wobble in two and a half minutes and without more than a glance at the instructions.

A real guy wouldn't tremble with fear every time his DVD player acted up because he dreads the day he will have to replace it and figure out again where all the damn wires go.

But last night I learned, via Ron Beasley, a guy's guy if ever there was a guy's guy, that it's not me! It's them! The designers and the engineers! It's their fault! I'm right about them being Martians and Mole Men!

It turns out that they design products they can't use themselves!

Always, always, in a middle of a project, with the parts spread out all around me, the manual in shreds, three hours of my life down the drain and no end in sight, I will cry out to my God in my agony, "What is the matter with these idiots? Don't they try out these things before they make us buy them to see if they work? Doesn't anybody at the company test them first?"

Nope. They don't.

Reuters reports:

Half of all malfunctioning products returned to stores by consumers are in full working order, but customers can't figure out how to operate the devices, a scientist said on Monday.

Product complaints and returns are often caused by poor design, but companies frequently dismiss them as "nuisance calls", Elke den Ouden found in her thesis at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands.

Here's my favorite part:

Product developers, brought in to witness the struggles of average consumers, were astounded by the havoc they created.

I feel vidicated.

Tonight, to celebrate, I'm going to take apart the 10 year old's new bike and put it back together, jusf for fun.

Maybe I'll do it right this time.


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