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Help Where It's Needed

The pilot light of my boiler keeps blowing out, often at the most inopportune times. Like in the middle of the night. Since I live in a city where the temperature is currently in the 30s and 40s F, I've occasionally found myself in a very cold house.

Lighting the pilot light is a fairly simple procedure of about five steps. However, if, like me, you've seldom done this and are confronted with this massive metal box filled with gas, hot water, and electricity in a dark and cold basement, it can be an intimidating thing. Even for the son (and grandson) of a plumber like yours truly. But there, on the side of the boiler, right above where the pilot light and the ignition are: instructions. Clear, single line instructions on how to light the pilot light, with even an arrow pointing to where to stick the match. Thanks to these instructions, it can be done even in the dark.

How many products do we use that you can say such a thing about? Usually the documentation is in its own (easily-lost) booklet or an owner's manual, or tucked away on its own web page somewhere. That is, far away from where you are when you need it the most. I'd love a car with some diagrams and basic instructions printed on the underside of the hood. Or an application with some really fantastic help attached right to the pieces of functionality.

Yes, I know we're supposed to build products that don't need help files, and while that is a great goal, it's sometimes unrealistic, especially for things that are tricky but happen infrequently. And sometimes what is simple for one user (obviously a heating guy wouldn't need the instructions to light a pilot light), isn't for another (me). We should just be mindful of when and where we provide help. We don't want to be Clippy, but we also don't want to be that stereo manual that can never be found when we want to add a new component either.

Originally posted at Friday, November 19, 2004 | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)

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