mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some assembly required...

I work in IT, which means that part of my job is breaking down how to use a computer to people who aren't necessarily familiar with them. For phone support (which, thankfully, I don't do much of anymore), that means walking people through things that I do without thinking, and it means trying to use terms that don't require any knowledge - reminding oneself that to someone who barely knows how to use a PC, terms like "system tray" or "quicklaunch toolbar" are pretty much useless. When writing documentation, this means remembering to assume nothing, and to use lots of pictures and screenshots and complete step-by-step instructions so the instructions are conveyed as intended.

I wish furniture manufacturers would use the same thinking when writing instructions for putting furniture together. I spent an hour or two last night trying to put together a pair of deck chairs, while cursing the whole time. I bought them probably a year and a half ago at an end-of-the-season clearance sale, stuck them in a corner, and forgot about them. I decided that it would be nice to put them together so that 1)I could actually use them - I'm hoping to finally get my back yard fenced in this summer and actually spend some time back there and 2)so I could use the space in the corner of my family room for something other than partly-assembled outdoor furniture. So I unfurled the mass of packing material and dug out the instructions.

The instructions were only a page, and step one was basically "use a bunch of parts to attach this part to that part - the parts including a shim plate, bolts, nuts, nut covers, bolt covers, and washers. It included a thoroughly useless diagram. So following the instructions, I put the bolts into the holes, stuck the nuts on the end, and cursed a bunch, because I couldn't figure out how to go from there. If I tried to move the bolt, it just spun in place, and if I tried to move the nut, it stayed in the same place. And in the process I managed to tilt the chair and smack myself in the head.

Finally, with the help of a cheap socket set I got free after rebate years ago, I hit on a strategy - hold the bottom of the nut with the socket wrench, and use one of the little toy metal wrenches that came with it to turn the bolt. It worked, and I got the chairs together, although I'm still not entirely sure I didn't assemble them backwards.

This may be completely obvious to anyone who knows anything about constructions - and it would explain why each chair came with two cheap baby's first wrenches. But I don't, and it is a stupid assumption to assume that anyone who buys a set of patio chairs knows anything about using tools. Instructions like this need to tell you not just what you need to do, but how to do it. They need to test instructions by having people with no experience try to put it together and see if they can.

Then again, patio furniture isn't exactly a reoccurring purchase, so companies can probably get away with this kind of thing. Still, they shouldn't, and retailers shouldn't put up with it - it leads to very annoyed customers.


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