Bring back the product manual.

I have touched on this subject in the past, but it is worth revisiting I feel.


I love them. Always have.  I’ve even written a few in my time, as well as a full on 600 page “Bible” at the end of last century on a piece of web development software.

In the late 80s when Windows software started to hit its strides, notably with the launch (to my mind) of Word for Windows from Microsoft, manuals were big, hard covered, detailed and with indexes.

There was nothing better when you had an hour to spare than sit down with a manual and just randomly read sections. You almost always found something you didn’t know, thus slowly increasing the percentage of how much of any piece of software you understood.

By way of example, the consensus at the time was that most people didn’t know any more than around 10% of the stuff they used.

Fast forward to the present and manuals have constricted in many cases to a single page of how to install. In the case of hardware anyway. Software manuals these days are either PDFs you have to go and get, or even worse, Help files on a website somewhere and usually badly indexed, if at all.

Dumbing down even further is the fact that documentation for hardware can be as miserable as some diagrams on how to put it together with a brief explanation of what a button is called.

I am the first to admit that exploring a new product to see what makes it tick and how it all fits together can be fun, but often, we don’t have time for this.

A good example is my 3D printer from Flashforge, an Adventurer 3.

The supplied manual tells you how to load filament and clean it. That’s it pretty much.

All the other stuff you have to dig out for yourself, discover via trial and error, trawl through user groups, Facebook pages and web pages or submit questions to Support Centres that can take days, if at all, to get an answer (often no more than a question anyway).

Even now, more than 12 months after purchase, I still do not understand certain things.

Another good example is the humble GoPro. The best you’ll get is a small credit card sized piece of plastic labelled Preferred Settings.

Compare this to the manual for my Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, which while is admittedly a PDF download, is still 160 pages of proper information fully indexed.

(You could argue that at the price, you’d expect a decent manual, but I’ll counter that by saying that is not the point. To the GoPro purchaser, a lot of the stuff there is all new, whereas arguably, a Pocket Camera 6K purchaser would have experience of the terminology / usage generally speaking. And anyway, to the GoPro purchaser that camera is probably just as important to them as the Pocket 6K is to its owner, if you get what I mean).

Another comparison, also involving Blackmagic, is that their editing software, DaVinci Resolve has a proper 400 page manual you can buy.

Splutter? What? BUY?

Yeah, the software is to all intents and purposes free, so at $60 it’s a bargain considering just what Resolve can do and its complexity.

Compare to, oh I don’t know, say the Adobe Premiere Pro / After Effects combo, or the Vegas Pro / Post combo.

So bring back the proper manual I say.

What do you think? Should decent manuals be supplied or made accessible at the very least?

Answer in the comments below. It’s anonymous by the way.

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