Honey, did you hide the Sample Copy button again?

I don’t know for sure, but I’d venture to guess that, given the near-extinction of the VCR, the copy machine has captured the title of Consumer Electronics Product that Most Makes People Want to Scream.

Today, two and a half years after I first used the copy machine at work, I noticed a tiny prompt in the LCD display asking me if I wanted to do a “Sample Copy” before making copies of a single sided document that I wanted to turn into 10 double-sided copies.

Now this is a great idea!  This way I get to see if my copies collate wrong; if I inadvertently clicked the “2 sides → 1 side” icon instead of the “1 side → 2 side” icon; or if the copy gremlins will stop the copy halfway through.

I go for it.  I hit the “Sample Copy” button, it makes one copy, and everything looks great.  Plus, a big question comes up on the screen saying, “Continue to make the remaining 9 copies? (Yes/No)”.  Yes!  9 more beautiful, double-sided, collated copies.  Mission accomplished!  A certifiably delightful copy experience.

This is brilliant.  Small swaths of forest could have been saved had I discovered this little button two years ago.

So why didn’t I find it sooner?  Because the darn copier has so many whiz-bang options for each copy, and it leaves it up to me to figure out which features are going to be most useful to me.  The message missed for me the first 50 times I used the copier.  That’s a design blunder if I’ve ever seen one.

It’s so easy to make the mistake of telling someone everything you know about something in the hopes of getting them as excited as you are about the story.  Don’t be like the copy machine designers and fall into this trap.  The person you’re talking to (one on one, in a group presentation, on your website, in a job application, on your blog) doesn’t live and breathe this stuff every day.

Instead, tell people what they need to know with the right level of information, detail, and complexity to meet them where they are.  Know what point to raise up in big, boldface letters , so that they hear your message the first time, and not two and a half years after they first meet you.  Be relentless about what you cut away.

(Oh, and don’t forget that at least some of what you need to put in boldface will be different for every person and group you meet.  That’s where things get really interesting.)

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