Why is it that that so often we get frustrated when we try to we try to follow assembly instructions that are included in boxes of self-assembly products like furniture? The colorful display photo on the box exterior makes it seem so simple. The finished product is so inviting in the picture. It is placed in an immaculate setting and part of a professional interior decoration scheme. As we gaze at the picture it seems like all we have to do is take it out of the box and it will be self-assembled and matching perfectly to the corner where we intend to place it.
But inside the box there is no gleaming finished piece of furniture, but rather a mess of hundreds of a parts, that need to be snapped, inserted, glued, nailed, screwed, soldered, or welded together. It is at this point that frustration with the enclosed instructions can become infuriating. The poor quality printing is difficult to read. The instructions unfold into a sheet larger than a dining room table cloth. Then trying to follow the English Language paragraphs can be maddening as the instructions are written repeatedly in all the major languages of Europe and Asia.
The very worst part of the assembly instructions is the difficulty in understanding them. According to a resurvey of college Humanities majors, 92% of the students felt that assembly instructions sent with prefabricated furniture were more difficult than either the instructions or the reading-passage exercises of the SAT. An examination of four samples of such instructions demonstrate why the students felt the assembly instructions are difficult and challenging.
Under normal circumstances, a book case is a simple and easily constructed or assembled piece of functional furniture. However, following the instructions for a bookcase can be more frustrating than following the instructions for writing a high quality essay for the SAT. The SAT essays are constructed with concepts that are derived from diverse sources and rich in meaning. They are built from the writer’s memories, opinions, and values. The assembly instructions on the other hand are completely alien the assembler.
The instructions must be specific and the user must be able to quickly memorize a multitude of names for panels, boards, and assorted pieces of pieces of hardware including various nails, screws, nuts, bolts, and few small designer tools that they included. But besides memorizing the new terms the user must also be skilled in visualizing how the 3D objects will be arranged in space and aligned to each other. The visualization tasks are commonly made more difficult because the simply drawn drawings that accompany the text of the instructions are difficult to recognize and match to the physical pieces.
The instructions for a simple shoe rack formed with tubular construction seemed designed to defy completion. It was essential that the narrow end of one tube be inserted into the flared end of the next tube but the instructions never stated this explicitly.
An entertainment center was recently returned to a large department store because the wiring system for an illumination lamp the understanding of a professional electrician.
Even the simple assembly of a shower caddy that can be assembled just by looking at the parts can come with a set of instructions with so many grammatical errors that are impossible to understand.