Why Your Intuitive Product Still Needs Instructions

smart phoneAs new technological developments make it easier and easier to provide simple products, it’s often predicted that user assistance and the traditional idea of a user guide will fade away. “It’s so intuitive,” developers say, “there’s no need for instructions.”

But that’s not how David Lieb, co-founder and CEO of Bump, sees it. Quite the opposite, in fact. He just wrote a piece for TechCrunch in which he said common ideas of simplicity can actually cause more confusion for users. The implication is that even with “simple” products we still need to provide good user assistance to our customers.

Lieb argues for a different kind of simplicity: low cognitive overhead. Basically, this is a simplicity that makes it easy to grasp new technologies that have new ways of doing things, like a new app or a new smartphone. He says that the kind of simplicity users need isn’t a minimal number of steps or buttons, but a minimal cognitive effort to understand the technology.

Now, if you accept his argument (and I do to a great extent), does that mean that designing your product for lower cognitive overhead will then allow you to do away with user assistance? I’m afraid not. Making something easier to understand also means providing assistance.

However, it does involve making the user help more seamless with the product and much easier to use. That’s where embedded help shows its value. I wrote last week about embedded help (and other formats).

So while the traditional user manual may be destined for the dust bin, user assistance is here to stay. And it’ll help you make your product more intuitive…or at least, easier on the brain.