Writing Effective Product Manuals

productmanualsIt goes without saying that the right amount of research is required when trying to put together helpful user manuals. Take the time to make sure that all of the documentation is accurate and if possible have another set of eyes double-check the work, preferably someone that isn’t as familiar with the product as the creator is. In addition, it will also be extremely beneficial to find out all of the various ways that customers might use the product so that all proper scenarios are covered should there be a need to troubleshoot.

Make sure when writing product manuals that the structure or base of the manual is outlined first. Then begin filling in all of the pertinent information for each step of the way. If at all possible, it will help a great deal to include pictures or textures along with the instruction process. Many like to work in a visual manner, so having the added pictures or textures will help them there are questions.

While there are a number of avatars that manual writing could be outsourced to, writing product manuals as an in-house project might be more cost effective. This way one really has the most control over the layout and how the information reads to customers. In the end, writing product manuals can be a great way to give customers the quality information that they need in regards to products.

Take One Moment to Consider Perceived Quality

parcelsettingsThe perception of how much effort is used to create a quality store environment can affect whether prospective visitors turn into a paying customer or whether they teleport away never to be seen again. Three of the factors that may apply to store quality include the arrangement of prims (i.e. textures, sizes, and organization) in the store, information visible on signs (i.e. pop-up notices and store policies), as well as parcel settings (i.e. name, media, restrictions).

The arrangement of prims can set the tone of the store depending on whether they appear to be rezzed in an organized fashion or scattered around the store at odd angles. Textures used in the store should be something other than the default of plywood and plain at a high enough resolution to show details, but not so high that it takes a long time for the texture to come into view. Alpha textures can be viewed from all angles to ensure there are no glitches and non-alpha textures at the same level overlap with each other resulting in the viewer randomly toggling between the two (sometimes referred to as flickering).

The purpose of signs in a store is to be informational without being too intrusive meaning landmarks and notecards are to be offered to the visitor only once, not every time they happen to walk into the sensor area. Store policies such as return, custom orders, post-sale support, and gifting options need to be clearly visible and available. Finally, any vendors that dispense a product needs to include not only the price of the item, but also the number of prims required and permissions allowed.

Parcel settings can either enhance the shopping experience or hinder it. For example, if the parcel is set to no-scripts then the chances of lag affecting avatars is minimized, but setting no-scripts might also disallow visitors from using their favorite HUD. Media settings such as music and sounds cannot conflict with each other, if there are sounds that you want the visitor to hear then a music stream playing at the same time may result in them not hearing the intended sound. Finally, the name of the parcel and description should be informative enough so that if the visitor decides to create their own landmark (rather than accepting yours) it will be informative when they are looking through their inventory window later.

The Hidden Value of Furniture

furnishingsThe furnishings used within a store is important because from a buyer’s point of view it will greatly affect their firm impressions of the goods or services available. Furniture should be high quality and appeasing to look at while also functional at the same time. It should blend in with the theme of the rest of the store (i.e. wall and floor colors) without impeding the flow of traffic.

While in a virtual world one does need to be concerned about whether furniture is well painted, the textures used on the furniture should be detailed enough to have a sense of quality but not necessarily at a high resolution as the texture needs to rez in a reasonable amount of time. Stores that mostly consist of plain grey surfaces for an extended period of time can be a turn-off to any potential buyers. Once the textures on furniture does become visible textures should be properly aligned along surface edges and have a smooth or polished look to convey quality.

Common furnishings in a typical retail shop might include lamps (local lighting), displays (demo objects), a cash register (scripted vendors), card machines (kiosks to purchase in-world currency), and shopping carts (dedicated rez areas for unboxing new purchases into inventory). The placement of these functional furnishings should express professionalism by being located away from walls while at the same time not affect avatar traffic nor camera angles as prospects navigate throughout the store.

Why it is So Important to Functionality Test Objects

functionalityFunctionality testing a new product or service before general release to the public is generally performed in two stages, alpha testing performed by the creator of the product and then beta testing by individuals most likely to use the product in the field. The primary reasons for functionality testing is to ensure that it satisfies the requirements of end users and also to come up with suggestions for future improvements.

Scripted objects are more likely to be functionality tested than non-scripted objects. Such testing requires that the product be utilized over and over again starting with individual testing of minor components (i.e. when odd symbols and excessive characters are submitted into the script does it respond appropriately or result in parsing and memory errors?) working up to the overall major characteristics of the solution such as generating the correct output when provided multiple variations of inputs. If a significant issue is discovered at the early stages these are usually resolved first before proceeding onto a later and larger stage. The testing process can very monotonous, yet is an important requirement.

The platform and viewer used to interact with and view the object is a circumstance that needs to be considered too as many still insist on using older viewers that may not be capable of rezzing sculpt and mesh objects nor respond appropriately to the latest and greatest scripting commands. Textures may not load as quickly as desired on computers with minimum hardware specifications and/or slow internet bandwidth speeds. Such limitations may either be addressed by the creator through either modification of the object or a mention in the notecard instructions that the viewer, hardware, and bandwidth must be meet certain requirements. In the latter case any identified glitches are indicated as “not a bug” and disregarded.

In the absence of external testers the creator can simulate much of the above by having multiple clients installed on multiple computers (i.e. desktop and laptop/netbook) as well as connections both hard-wired as well as wireless to vary the internet connection speeds. Alternate accounts can not only test for correct functionality, but can also be used to ensure the permission of objects and their contents (i.e. textures, notecards, scripts, animations, etc) appropriately protect the creator against theft while also allowing the user to customize or configure as required.