Just finished writing a long
piece for our magazine’s November issue that is tentatively headlined “25 ways
to sharpen your writing,” offering some tricks from the editing trade on how to
“strengthen, energize, clarify, and trim your words.” One of the themes of the
article is that writers need to think about their end user—the reader—and that
when things go wrong in writing, it’s often because writers have tunnel vision
and aren’t considering the tired, easily distracted consumer of their words.
An entire book can be
written on the problems caused when product designers in general—who, in this
context, include writers—fail to visualize their consumers. I had two small
but annoying illustrations of this over the weekend.
Having just moved from a
condo to a traditional home in Milwaukee, I’ve found myself suddenly
re-acquiring the things—such as a lawn mower, weed whipper, hedge trimmer and
large grill—that I got rid of 10 years ago.
Saturday I tried to cut the
grass for the first time at the new place. I attempted to fire up the
fully-charged Black & Decker cordless electric mower. Nothing. I went
through the company’s trouble-shooting chart point by point—everything worked.
But still no action.
I got on the phone with the
company’s help line—and as I was talking to its helper, I realized the problem.
The mower directions said: Push the side button then pull the bale handle up
and the beast will start. But that’s not true. Here’s what they meant to say:
Push the side button in and keep it in while you pull the bale up, and then the
beast will start.
Why could the writer of this
instruction manual not visualize the user going through those steps and add
four simple words? This is amazing to me.
The same day I fired up a
new Weber gas grill. The key part of firing up a gas grill is, as everyone
knows, the igniter button. Why would you not label the igniter button the
“igniter button”? Why would Weber instead label it "Crossover"? This is also
amazing to me.
These both seem like fine products so far, but Isn’t life complicated
enough without this kind of needless complexity?
-- Ron Kovach, senior editor, The Writer