Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story…

Over the weekend I bought an Apple iPod Shuffle to use at my new writer’s desk. I could hardly wait to unwrap it and start using it!

Apple’s industrial design choices were smart and beautiful, as usual. The iPod came in a sweet little clear plastic cube, sealed with clear plastic tape with a subtle arrow that showed me how to unwrap it. Inside the box, the iPod sat on a little tray, beneath which were the earbuds, a USB cable, and a booklet labeled, “start here.”

Every customer action had been thought through, so taking the components out of the box was like unwrapping a specially wrapped gift. Lovely!

I did not love the instructions, though. They were extremely minimal and were set in tiny type. Nowhere in the booklet did it say, “For complete instructions, go to: support.apple.com/manuals/ipod.”

If I need a magnifying glass to read the instructions, they are too small!

Instead—on the very last page—it said, “For important safety and instructional content, see the user guide: support.apple.com/manuals/ipod.” Instructional content? What is that? As usability expert Steve Krug says, “Don’t make me think!”

Start Here: Check for blind spots

Apple’s choices to create such minimal printed instructions—and provide them in 4-point type—are clues to their audience assumptions:

  • Everyone who buys this product is young, so reading tiny type will not be a problem
  • Customers will just mess around with the device until they figure it out; nobody reads instructions anyway
  • Customers will just plug the iPod into their computer and the online set-up will work flawlessly (Not so!)
  • Everybody who buys an iPod already knows iTunes and synching

Once online, I got locked out of resetting my iTunes password for the next eight hours, and couldn’t figure out how to skip the registration step and proceed to setting up my iPod. I called customer service and eventually we got everything worked out, but if Start Here had directed me to the (excellent) online manual at the beginning, I wouldn’t have needed to make that call.

Disaster Avoidance Tip

You get the hairy eyeball in the marketing world whenever you identify the audience for your product as “everyone.” That’s because the broader and less differentiated the audience is, the harder it is to make targeted, effective marketing decisions. In other words, if you try too hard to appeal to everybody, you run the risk of appealing to nobody!

But I think the converse is true, too: Define your audience as only the young and the hip, and you run the risk of frustrating some older folks who are all ready to  love you and your products. (I bought my first Apple product in 1988. I’m a loyal customer who plans to buy more of them in the near future.)

As an “older” consumer, I appreciate companies that go out of their way to make it easy for me to use and enjoy the products that I’m already pre-disposed to buying from them—and my generation has the buying power that makes a compelling bottom-line case for doing so.

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