Vesa Purho
Development Manager, Nokia

A lot has been written about how important it is to know the users of your products so that you can provide information products that match their needs. Naturally, writers should know the product they are documenting so that they know what they are talking about when they discuss the product with subject-matter experts (SMEs). They must be able to ask the right questions and get the right answers. In addition, to provide excellent information products, writers need to know their users’ business.

Why should we know something about our users’ business? When we think, if we think, that information products should add value to the users, we need to answer the question: how do they add value? From the user’s point of view, good grammar, superb spelling, and correct content are not really value-adding factors. They are hygiene factors, that is, they have to be there or the users will be unhappy, but do they add extra value if you make them even better?

The information products really add value if they help the users to perform their work more effectively. Optimally, the product should be so easy to use so that information products are not needed in the basic use of the product. Naturally, when something goes wrong, “information products” are valuable to help in recovering from the situation. Information products add value also by showing how the product can best be used to run the user’s business. You don’t have to write a student book on the subject matter, but you could add value to the users by showing some tips and advice on their particular situation. For example, if a procedure describes how to modify the configuration files, instead of saying “The following procedure describes how to use the GUI for modifying the configuration files,” you could describe the purpose of modifying the configuration files and in what kind of situations the user should modify them. To provide this kind of information, you must know something about the business and related technologies. You also have to take the user profiles into account, knowing what a particular user group already knows so that you don’t provide detailed information on something that they know by education or experience.

User and task analysis in their basic form reveal what the users do and how they do it, but to really add value, you should also know why they do what they do. To be able to provide that kind of information, you should know something about the business in which the product is used. All this is related to the strategic position of information products for a specific product. If information products are not meant to add value, then they only provide the basics, but if you are competing by adding value, as opposed to competing with price, information products can be key players in providing that added value.

This article is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or practice of Nokia.