Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Open Letter to Techies

          This is an open letter to every app developer and programmer in the world: Not everyone speaks your language, or thinks computers are the equivalent of candy.  Oh, I know—to some people every piece of techie info is exciting, and fits right into a comfy slot in their brain.  But for others of us, it is jagged shrapnel coming in at high speed.   

           Whether we’re trying to burn a CD, download a program, sign up for malware protection, or edit the registry, we feel like a 4-year-old in an Olympic slalom course, waaay out of our comfort zone.

            I know you think your instructions are easy, because you have numbered them.  But numbering them is not enough.  When you say, “Go to all programs,” the novice searches their computer screen and thinks, “Where is that?” Then they stare at their keyboard and it’s not there, either.  The computer geek thinks, “Well, obviously you have to go to ‘start’ and then open the control panel first,” but that is not obvious to everyone.
            It’s like recipes today.  Years ago you could say, “Make a white sauce” or “heat syrup to soft ball stage” or “beat until meringue forms” but today you have to describe very exacting steps because most people don’t cook anymore.  Today, instead of saying, “heat tomato sauce,” you have to say, “Open can and put contents into sauce pan on stove burner over medium heat for five minutes.” But do I sneer at people who can’t cook?  No; I realize this is not everybody’s hobby, and I patiently guide them through the steps for success.
            I saw a set of computer instructions (for release and renew IP address) that said, “Open a command prompt.”  I have no idea what this means.  And in editing a registry, I have no idea what to touch and what not to touch.  I don’t even know that I understand the whole purpose of the registry itself.
            Let’s say a box pops up that says, “Local area connection doesn’t have a valid IP connection.”  You Google that, my friend, and see what various people have tried, and it will look like a plate of spaghetti. Spaghetti made without enough instructions.

            Here’s how I’d like online instructions to look, in a Dick-and-Jane sort of font:
            Can you find the little circle with the multi-colored flag at the bottom of your screen?  Click YES or NO.
          Great.  Hover over that with your mouse and click ONE TIME.  Two boxes will pop up.  Look at the darker box, and find the words, Control Panel.  Click ONE TIME on them.
          Click once on the little overlapping squares on the very top right-hand corner of your screen.  This will make both the box, and this page of instructions, visible at the same time.  Now you can go back and forth from these instructions to the box, without having to close one down.
            You get the idea.

            People who take quickly to computers can’t understand why the rest of us are befuddled, and plow ahead with directions only they and their peers can understand.  So I beg you people to enlist someone such as myself, to help you make your products more user friendly.  I am not a grandma, but I would like to call this the Grandma Test—if a grandma can understand it, then you can go public with it.  
          And here's something everyone can understand and enjoy: My books!  Even grandmas will gobble them up.  You can get them in hard copy or Kindle at this link. Check 'em out!

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