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What's Convenient Gets Used -- a General Principle That Applies to Nearly Everything

by Tom Johnson on Sep 17, 2008 •
categories: technical-writing

Recently I switched from using the iRiver I bought two years ago to my wife's iPod Nano, which she only uses intermittently. I don't know why I used my iRiver for so long. The iPod is superior in every way, but mostly because it offers convenience. For example,

  • New podcasts download automatically when I merely plug it in to my computer and click Sync.
  • Its small size allows me to clip it onto my belt and easily hide the headphones in my pocket.
  • I can quickly toggle between music and podcasts.
  • When I stop a podcast half way in the middle, the iPod remembers where I left off the next time I return to it.

I have my BlackBerry clipped onto the left side of my belt and the iPod Nano clipped onto the right. Yes, it feels nerdy, but it's also extremely convenient. If I had to dig the iPod out of my backpack every time I wanted to listen to a podcast, or if I had to sit there every morning downloading podcasts, I'd be much less likely to listen. But by making podcasts extremely convenient, I plow through more episodes now than ever.

There's a lesson to learn here: Don't underestimate the importance of convenience. If you want to increase the usage of your help material, increase its convenience. Make your help context-sensitive. Provide a one-page quick reference guide. Give the user a search field that returns accurate results, etc. The long printed manual is going out of style not because it's ugly or long, but because it's inconvenient.

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