Friday, March 27, 2009

Adobe's Unhelpful Help

I had a lesson yesterday with one of my favorite students. She's a designer and artist and I can talk to her about Adobe geek stuff. We spent about the first half hour of her lesson talking about things like serif and sans serif fonts and which works better in various situations. I know someone is a kindred soul when they are aware of the fact that, as a general rule of thumb, you shouldn't use more than two fonts in a piece of work (and sometimes only one is better).

I had been encouraging her to learn to use Adobe's page layout software, InDesign, rather than do layout in its drawing application, Illustrator. She already bought all of Adobe's publication suite so she might as well get more out of it. The main thing holding her back had been a lack of motivation because most of her projects contained few pages and learning InDesign wasn't worth the effort if she could easily do it in Illustrator, which she knows very well and can work quickly and comfortably in.

Recently a new project came up which required a 16-page layout and it was too daunting to do in Illustrator so she bit the bullet and dug in. This was essentially what I made myself do awhile back, though I did it of my own volition because I'm just that big of a dork. There are two ways to learn InDesign. One is to use Adobe's help system to guide you through the rough spots and slowly learn the program. The other is to buy some sort of classroom in a book and teach yourself. The way I learned is no longer an option because I learned from printed manuals that Adobe sent me back in the days when such things were included as part of the outrageous price you paid for their software.

I try not to finish my student's sentences, but when she said "Adobe's Help is...", I had to blurt out "awful". I've tried it for a variety of programs since getting CS4 and have found it dismal in offering up the information I need. The main problem is that its online help relies on a search spitting out a link to the proper information. Sometimes you land in the middle of the information you need with no lead to how you're supposed to start. Sometimes you end up in the middle of nowhere. On rare occasions, you may get the information you want, but it's all rather scatter shot.

While I don't think Adobe or any company ought to send out some huge manual with every piece of software, I think they should link to a downloadable manual on the first page that loads up on your web browser when you choose the "help" item from the menu. In fact, I think they should make sure that such a link stands out on the page rather than tucking it off to the side with other files (and only showing you the link after you conduct a search).

After poking around a bit, I sent my student off a message about where to find the downloadable manual and how to easily link to training videos (from inside the manual), but I think it's too late. My guess is that she's finished this project and now she has no incentive to learn the software any better and, indeed, is probably too turned off by the hassle of seeking help to even try.


Shawn said...

Sadly, this seems to be the direction that many software companies are heading in; perhaps one of the perks of working at a company like mine is that we're so behind such matters that I can still write docs in the form of documents rather than obscure searchable web pages (for now).

Sadly, the disconnect between managers (who want "what that awesome company is doing!") and actual users (who want "help") is unlikely to ever be bridged properly, from what I've seen.

Orchid64 said...

I avoided saying this because it didn't really fit with the post, but Apple's on-line help is nearly as dismal as Adobe's for the same reason. If you happen to be looking for something Apple thinks you need to know, it's easy to find the information you want, but if you are looking for something they don't believe is necessary, you're lost. I think that we can actually blame Microsoft and being too cheap to print manuals for these trends.

I'm sure you know better than most what the deal is since you do this for a living. I wonder if your company will use better documentation (rather than searches) longer than others because most of your consumers can't really dive in and get started unless they already know what they're doing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Orchid, I have had pretty good success with their forums at the Adobe site... I like using Pages as well, I just wish it had more tools, I wonder if quark or Indesign is better?

Orchid64 said...

InDesign is definitely easier to use and has had increased flexibility and functionality relative to Quark. One of my friends has worked in publishing for most of her adult life and she told me that even big publishing companies are now swapping to InDesin after many years of using Quark.

CMUwriter said...

I use indesign every day, but would love to learn more about it, where are those printable guides Shari? Thanks

Orchid64 said...

Unfortunately, you can't go directly to them (which is part of what annoys me) by typing in an URL.

The easiest way to reach it is to access it from the "Welcome" screen that pops up when you start. If you have turned off the welcome screen's automatic pop up, you can get it back by going to the "Help" menu (last menu item on the right) and and choosing "Welcome Screen."

On the lower left hand side of the "Welcome" screen, there are three items:

Getting Started
New Features

Click on "Resources" and your web browser will launch. A window will load with a pink bar across the top, a dark grey bar under it, and a bunch of messages in white. In the dark grey bar, there's a link for "Download Help pdf (31 MB)." That's the most direct route to getting the manual.

If you have any problems finding it, just ask again! There's another way to get to it.

By the way, how are you doing as a writer in the current economy? I hope you're doing okay!