Well, obviously, the writer in not familiar with Robert Horn or the demands for accessibility and globalization that I must deal with, so I have dismissed it.
But it just keeps coming back, so I'm going to ask myself, "What if they're right?"
First, so I can be more open to new thinking, let me purge myself of all the reasons I have traditionally rejected screen shots in documentation:
- Every time the UI gets modified, screen shots must get updated.
- Every time the UI gets translated, new screen shots must be generated in the new language and coordinated into the translated text.
- Information in the screen shot (like button selection or entries) must be documented in the steps anyway so the information can be rendered by adaptive technologies like screen readers.
- Many screen shots just show the reader what the user is already seeing.
- Users may be overly attracted to the visual and miss important points in the explanatory text.
- It makes the document bigger.
Objection 1 (updating screen shots) seems writer-centric. Essentially it is saying "It makes my job harder." Well if it does make the user's job easier, it would make sense that it makes my job harder--nothing's free. OK, Objection 1 is bad.
Objection 2 (translation) is just an instantiation of Objection 1. Therefore, Objection 2 is bad.
Hmmmm, I don't like how this is going so far :-(
Objection 3 (information still has to exist in words) has some substance. Information in a screen shot cannot be used to substitute for information in the steps. Unless of course, you're not worried about accessibility. Now that's an entirely different blog!
Objection 4 (what good is a picture of what the user can clearly see) has always resonated with me. Here is an example:
This example is particularly problematic for me since the UI text is actually pretty explanatory.
It also can get fairly tedious. consider the next steps that follow the example above:
But it seems that this by-the-numbers, picture-by-picture aspect is the attraction for this type of documentation. As in "So easy a..." well you get the picture.
So am I hearing from users who want this type of documentation, or am I hearing from technicians who think users need this level of hand-holding?
Objection 5 (visually distracts from useful text) has merit. Although it's true that a picture is worth a thousand words, it did take seven words to express that concept, and I'm not sure how you would get that across as well in a picture. Also, I think it is easier to wrap context around an example if the example is in words. For example, in the following shot, is the value 10240 an example or is it the value the user should enter?
And in the next example, the screen shot visually contradicts the step.
Objection 6 (document size) should be evaluated based on the merit of the document. If the screen shots make the document better, no one will care about bigger.
So where does this leave me?
I am going to be more open to including screen shots where they do the following:
- Help reassure the user that where they are in the UI is the right place to be
- Help call attention to a specific area of a complex UI
- Support an example that is hard to visualize otherwise, e.g., setting up a desktop configuration