In his article Smart factories require smart documentation, Alexander Hoffmann states:
« Connected Things will dominate the Internet, the cities and our lives…The Internet of Things is growing exponentially… 26 billion Things will be connected by 2020… »
Which impact on our technical writer’s job?
« Thus, there is a growing demand for digital manuals that are displayed directly on the machines and are always at hand when the machine is in use. »
« This would allow a warning sign to flash up on the display if the machine operator enters an unsafe machine function. Or it could be combined with a mechanism that only unlocks the system once the operator has read the warning information. »
Interesting point of view…
How applicable is this recommendation?
Sergio, experienced electrical lineman, just received Google Glasses to provide him with a constant link to the necessary information.
Under rough weather conditions, paper manuals or tablets are not Sergio’s best friends. Wind and rain are the worst enemies of the 250-page manual. And you, have you tried to read a tablet on a bright sunny day?
Now, Sergio, hanging on his pole, wants to check the connections on this new electrical box. To comply with the manufacturer’s recommendations, he commands his Google Glass: « OK Glass! Electrical box ABC123, connections ».
Any idea about Sergio’s mood at that stage? He is a highly trained professional who knows exactly how to prevent electrical hazards!
This is not the kind of information he needs when hanging there, about 12 meters above ground!
How many warning signs when the engine is on fire?
Recommending that a warning sign
« …could be combined with a mechanism that only unlocks the system once the operator has read the warning information. »
is indeed another interesting option.
Let’s take Captain Evans’ experience as an example. Aboard Qantas flight QF32, the pilot was faced with a turbine on its Rolls-Royce engine going on fire.
Two-hours to get rid of warning messages
Captain Evans explains:
« We had a number of checklists to deal with and 43 ECAM messages in the first 60 seconds after the explosion and probably another ten after that. So it was nearly a two-hour process to go through those items and action each one (or not action them) depending on what the circumstances were ».
So, the engine is on fire, your aircraft’s tanks are full, your cockpit display shows 53 warning messages, some of them contradicting .. « The first one was ‘Engine 2 turbine overheat’. That requires the thrust lever to be reduced back to idle with a time condition, which is round about 30 seconds and wait for the turbine temperature to settle. During that 30-second period the message reconfigured to an ‘engine fire’ momentarily and then went back to the ‘turbine overheat’ message. »
QUESTION: what do you do (apart from praying you are NOT on board such an A 380)? Are you sure such warning messages are useful to the pilot?
Warning: superfluous warnings are hazardous
In his article about information pollution, Jakob Nielsen stresses:
« Most instruction manuals are littered with « important » warnings that caution against obvious stupidities, burying actual dangers amid a mass of irrelevancy . An out-of-control legal system has made a joke of the entire warnings concept; products are now less safe because nobody bothers to read warnings anymore. »
Therefore, why should we, as technical writers, add to documentation pollution, instead of providing end-users with usable and useful information?
It’s time to really consider writing for IoT by applying the minimalism principles and making the information readable at any time on any device!