Printer Documentation in All the Right Places

Setting up a new desktop printer is easy: remove the printer from its box, insert ink or toner cartridges, plug in the power cord, connect it with the computer, and select the printer driver. That’s straight-forward enough that some users may choose to skip reading the installation manual altogether. Depending on the model, however, there may be some setup details that need special attention. Pointing these out to the user is as easy as putting the required documentation in the right places.

What color is your ink?

A printer model I set up recently, ships with a set of “special ink cartridges [included] inside this box for use during the initial setup process.” I don’t know how these cartridges differ from “normal” models in terms of technical details, but the printer is supposed to be operated with these cartridges first.

To ensure that even users who choose not to read the installation manual, are made aware of this requirement, the manufacturer has placed a little note right inside the ink compartment: open the compartment, and you cannot not discover this information.

Besides explaining about the special type of ink, the note also points out where to find the cartridges inside the printer’s shipping box.

The ink cartridges themselves feature both colored labels and big letters for identifying their contents. The printer’s cartridge release tabs are died in plastic matching the color on the cartridge label, and the letters identifying the colors are molded onto the inside of the ink compartment’s door. Right below the letters is a URL pointing to the page about printer supplies on the manufacturer’s website.

I was a bit surprised that — with the exception of the black cartridge being slightly wider than the other three — these helpful and non-ambiguous visual cues were not complemented by any mechanical lockout feature to prevent the user from inserting a cartridge in the wrong slot.1

Don’t hook me up just yet!

Usually, the driver software that ships with a hardware device must be installed before plugging in the USB cable between computer and device.2 To ensure that the user follows this order of steps during the installation, this particular printer features a small sticker tab placed right above the USB socket.

When trying to hook up the printer, the user cannot help but notice the sticker and its “Install software first” reminder. Once she’s found and (hopefully) read it, the sticker peels off easily, providing unobstructed access to the USB socket.

  1. This assertion is based on a visual inspection of the three color cartridges only, as I did not attempt to insert one into the wrong slot for fear of somehow screwing up the printing system. 

  2. This seems to be a problem specifically with machines running Microsoft Windows: on several occasions I somehow managed to have Windows assign the wrong driver to a newly-connected hardware device. In every single case, “convincing” Windows to un-assign this driver and accept a new one for the device in question, was a royal pain.