Granite Countertops and Stainless Steel Appliances

Though it’s probably the most low-key reality show on television, HGTV’s House Hunters has uncovered an overwhelming, and heretofore unknown, passion lurking deep in the American psyche.

Photo of a kitchen with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliancesThe show follows a set formula. A real estate agent asks the home buyers how much money they have to spend and what features they want. Then we watch as they tour three homes, commenting pro and con on each one. After the buyers choose one of the homes, we visit with them post-move and hear them tell us how happy they are with their choice.

The overwhelming passion expresses itself in the features they want. Every buyer, to a man (or woman), wants the kitchen to have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Things that look great but are pricey and don’t make the kitchen any more functional or easier to cook in.

Anyway, I got to thinking: What are the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances of technical communication? What are the things that every company, every client, wants to see in their technical and marketing communication projects — regardless of cost or actual business value?

And what should be on everyone’s wish list — but too often isn’t considered? Here’s the GC&SSA list as I see it. Nice to look at, pricey, and not returning much value:

  • Graphics heavy (“make it look nice”)
  • Four-color treatment through and through
  • Custom designed packaging or binding for printed material

And here are some top contenders for the should-be list:

  • Task oriented: Geared to real users and the real tasks they do
  • Relevant: Not just oriented to users’ tasks, but to their world and they way it looks to them
  • Portable: Built from content that can be reused in different contexts, in different output formats, on different media

Part of my job is showing clients why they should care more about the second list and a little less about the first.

Does your company, or do your clients, favor the GC&SSA approach? Or do their wish lists center on things that are less glamorous but have lasting value?

What would you add to either one of the lists?

Originally published, with slightly different content, on the SDI blog, 11 July 2012

8 thoughts on “Granite Countertops and Stainless Steel Appliances

  1. Val Swisher

    I always love analogies, Larry. And, admittedly, I watch House Hunters because I want to see what you can get for different sums of money in different locations. And as you note, rarely do the buyers care about the framing of the house. They never talk about whether the plumbing leaks or the electrical is up to code.

    What they do notice, as your post indicates, are the finishes, the room sizes, the location, and most of all the price.

    Many companies have taken the same route with their content. They realize that they can get a “bigger house” by offshoring content creation to cheaper locations. They don’t necessarily care if the foundation of the house that’s been manufactured in a far-off location is sturdy. Can you build a second floor on it? How does it handle all types of weather? Snow? Sun? Is it earthquake-proof?

    I find that fewer clients want to pay for GC&SSA. Granite is much more expensive than Formica. So Formica is good enough. And if you have it manufactured in the cheapest location, even better.

    Never mind that the roof leaks, the insulation is poor, and the home won’t stand the test of time.

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  4. Mark Baker

    For our recent move from Ottawa to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, we staged our house for sale. The staged house looked uncomfortable to me, and was certainly hard to live in. But the house sold quickly and for close to asking price, so presumably the staging worked.

    Perhaps we ought to be paying more attention to staging content. We have certainly paid a lot of attention over the years to usability (though I suspect that most of it was based on a false premise about how people actually use content). But well staged and usable are not the same thing, as Bruce Tognazzini illustrates in his analysis of Apple’s recent UI trends: And it does not matter how usable something is in principle if it is so off-putting in appearance that on one tries to use it, of if it is only usable after you have invested time to learn to use it.

    Tri-pane help has to be the worst way to stage content that has ever been invented. It fairly screams, “Look how long and complicated I am!” And putting granite countertops on it will not change this. There is more to effective staging than making things shiny. A shiny mess is still a mess.

    I suspect that the poor job we have done of staging content impacts our relationship with our corporate masters as much as it does our relationship with our readers. It is hard to ask people to see value in something that looks so off-putting.I suspect we will need to get much better at staging content if we want to customers and executives to see the value in it.

  5. Karen Field Carroll

    Larry–I don’t have a concrete answer, but my usual theme is that anything that focuses on content delivery at the expense of the quality of the content itself is a big loser, and I stand by that now. As an ADDICT of HGTV, however, I had to comment on HH, a show I’ve come to despise because the buyers are so obviously coached by the producers. (“Now, when you walk into a room, you have to comment on the size of the closets or whether your furniture would fit in the room.”) Also, if things are the way they were several years ago, the buyers have already bought the house and are “pretend searching” for the benefit of the show. It reminds of sales pitches that appear in end-user documentation. (Marketer: “Be sure to tell them we are ‘best in breed.'” Tech writer: “We’re not ‘best in breed’ because this isn’t the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. And by the way, the user has already bought this product.”) >;->

  6. Marcia Riefer Johnston

    Larry, I enjoyed your insightful article–and the thoughtful comments. Thanks, all.

    To Mark’s point about usability tests based on false assumptions about how people use information, I recently saw a product “in the wild” that I had helped document. There, hanging from it, was the quick reference card that the team had painstakingly created, tested, approved, printed, laminated, etc. It was not only accurate, it was beautiful. As beautiful as a the shiniest refrigerator.

    The response from the person using the product? “Oh, look at that. I never even noticed that card hanging there.”

  7. Joe Pairman (@joepairman)

    Great post! It got me thinking about the equivalent of the granite countertops in Taiwanese cities, where there isn’t so much space, especially in the kitchen. I think the closest thing is the gyms and faux-Rococo fountains in many new apartment complexes. They pushed the price up, and weren’t always well maintained after a few years. Back to the real point of the article: indeed there are certainly some very expensive things we can do around content that aren’t worth it. Videos, when used without much prior market research or planning, often come into this category.

    But I like Mark’s comment about staging. It’s too easy to dismiss efforts to present content well as mere window-dressing. And the point about key internal stakeholders is well made.

    Good presentation isn’t just about attracting (or not putting people off at least) in the first place, but helping to ensure that they have a pleasant experience during their interactions with the content. Take Jakob Nielsen’s old and new sites for example. I understand why he didn’t change the old site design for so long (he was making a point about good content being more important than flashy designs), but I do enjoy reading his articles more in the context of the new site, and the related links are better too. Here’s an example:

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