Complication Nation

I’m getting emotional over motion. “Motionflow” TV must be one of the dumbest inventions ever. Oh, it sounds great in theory: a video display technology which reduces the blurring of rapid motion, making it flow more smoothly. The problem is it works too well. Watching a movie on a MotionFlow TV makes the film look like a cheap video. I mentioned this to a hapless TV salesperson – his feeble response was that you could turn off this so-called “feature”. (To be fair, MotionFlow is probably best for sports and live TV, but I’m a movie guy myself.)

MotionFlow is a symptom of a bigger problem: companies designing products crammed with features that people either don’t need, don’t want or can’t use. Ever tried to buy a cellphone that only makes phone calls, or a printer that only prints? You’d have better luck getting through to a live tech support person in less than two minutes.

The “overcomplication” problem hits our profession in two ways. First, in the tools we use. Yes, there are many good authoring tools out there. But many of them have far more features than you would ever need. For example, I have yet to find a simple, off-the-shelf, easy to use XML publishing system, one that would let you quickly create documents, TOCs, and indices, and publish them to a content management system. (If you know of one, let me know.)

More importantly, “overcomplication” is a problem in documentation. I’ve seen many documents that have far too much information in over-sized topics that are difficult to read. That’s why I admire quick start guides. They give users the essential information they need to set up and use a product. The other content can be moved to a regular user guide or reference guide.

So the next time you’re thinking about getting the latest version of Super-Duper Authoring Tool Version 127.3, or releasing a fun-to-read 800 page user guide, don’t go with the flow; instead, de-complicate.

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