Assembly Isn’t the Problem by
(23 Stories)

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The problem is not the assembly. It’s the document purporting to be assembly instructions that makes the process maddening. Originally written in an obscure language, it’s been clumsily translated into English, rendering it completely opaque. The consumer vents her frustration by throwing the directions away and pursuing an intuitive approach, based on a no-doubt misleading photo (if any) on the outside of the box.

Business has largely given up on attempting a verbal description of what to do, substituting pictures, drawings, or cartoons to guide the hapless consumer. Alas, this does not help the process. The artwork becomes an IQ test, viz. “What does this picture depict”? “Is this the view from left, right, or inside the product?” Or perhaps, “Is there any significance to the intersecting arrows on the page?” And “Why is one arrow red and the other blue”?

You get the idea.

Finally, my favorite end to the saga: Why do I have this leftover part which is neither described nor shown with the instructions — and for which I have no clue as to why it was in the box in the first place?

Profile photo of Mister Ed Mister Ed

Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    So true, Mr. Ed. And SO frustrating. Though no longer new, our oven is from Germany. The instructions were translated into bad British English, so broiling is called “grilling”; not what I was doing with my lamb chops, and I had to keep the oven door closed (spattering juice everywhere). One of the many reasons I gave up cooking when my kids were grown and gone.

    You describe the trials of modern instructions with great clarity and insight.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    The pictures are particularly problematic for those who have issues with spatial relations!! But even if you have that gift, the drawings are not always accurate and so the fun begins.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    You hit the nail on the head (pardon the pun), Mr. Ed. We have a drawer full of “what’s this?” leftovers from assembling things. So far, none of these left out items seem to matter.

  4. Ah Mr Ed , I think we have to get our friend Marian to re-write the directions for all the stuff we have to assemble!

  5. Anyway, horses can’t be expected to read.

  6. Jeff Gerken says:

    I have often wondered why some of these companies don’t just hire a person who actually speaks, and understands, English to convert their attempts at instructions into real, readable, understandable documents.

  7. Marian says:

    Right you are, Mr. Ed. It’s mostly a matter of dollars, because companies don’t want to invest the time and money to do things right and have instructions professionally translated when necessary. That’s still no excuse for the lousy drawings and extra parts.

  8. Jim Willis says:

    I’m with you on these instructions! The first thing I often do is toss them and log into YouTube for a how-to video.

  9. Very true to my experience! Starting to get frustrated just reading about it.

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