Screen capture from installation video on YouTube: a hand holding up a Nest thermostat, still in its box, near the thermostat to be replaced

Unboxing Day

The unboxing phenomenon lets us vicariously enjoy the process of receiving and opening a new product by watching videos posted by other people. Unboxing videos are very popular: Unbox Therapy has over two million YouTube subscribers, and this video garnered over two million views in less than two weeks.

There’s a sensuous feel to unboxing videos, because some products are elaborately packaged. We may never even get our hands on some of them. For example, “Weird Al” Yankovic posted a video of him unboxing his 2015 Grammy award for “Mandatory Fun.” (Vicarious and hilarious!)

Another class of video involves instruction on or demonstration of product installation and setup. Just as we once watched Julia Child or Bob Ross show us how to do things we didn’t know how to do, we can watch these videos to learn how to install or configure complex products. As someone who makes a living in part describing how to install and configure products, I’m interested in unboxing videos, and more so in installation videos. They give us a direct view of how consumers open, install, and set up products. It’s particularly relevant to consumer hardware, but software videos are increasingly available, and we can learn from them as well.

This Unbox Therapy video shows the unboxing and setup process for an Apple Watch. The effort Apple puts into their packaging is appreciated in at least some quarters (as of this writing the video has been viewed nearly two million times on YouTube).

Screen capture from installation video on YouTube: a hand holding up a Nest thermostat, still in its box, near the thermostat to be replaced
Unboxing and setup video for a Nest Learning Thermostat

This video shows the installation of a Nest thermostat. If Nest is smart—and I’m sure they are!—they’ve carefully analyzed this and other third-party videos involving their products. Why? First, although the “official” Next installation video is also on YouTube and more popular (viewed over 420,000 times as of this writing), the unofficial one has still garnered over 46,000 views as of this writing, and if it’s inaccurate, it could cause problems for the company. But also, even if it’s accurate, seeing how the product is installed from scratch in the real world by a real customer provides invaluable information. Many of us have had the experience of opening and assembling a laptop computer with both hardware and software components, developed separately and perhaps tossed into the same box. (There’s a story from DEC about a system that was shipped in one crate, but with three separate documents labeled “Read Me First.”) It’s a good idea to audit a first-time user’s initial experience, and an unboxing video affords us that opportunity. Installation procedures are painstaking, and usually we only have the energy to document the mainline, everything-works procedure. How much better the instructions would be if we knew of, say, the ten most common user errors and could head them off!

Chosen at random, here are two third-party videos of software installations. In Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016, an experienced installer encounters and calmly works through multiple issues in this complex installation that might otherwise halt the process and trigger a support call. In Windows Server 2012, the installer walks through a maze of decision points that would make my head hurt trying to describe (but in this case the video might benefit from the time-compression techniques employed in “The French Chef”).

As technical communicators, then, what can we learn from unboxing videos?

  • That they may exist for our products right now, and that our customers may be using them
  • How our product is actually packaged and shipped, and how our customers deal with unboxing
  • How customers actually install and set up our products
  • How long steps take
  • Where points of confusion or error arise in the field

I hope you’ve received some nice products this holiday season and are enjoying unboxing them!

Published by

stevefjong

I am a lifelong technical communicator, an Associate Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, and former chairman of the STC Certification Commission. I earned a BA in Physics and Astronomy, and an MS in Science Communication, from Boston University. I am married with three children and we live in my childhood home town of Westford, Massachusetts. Outside of my professional work I'm interested in vocal performance, music in general, reading, writing, astronomy, and Boston sports.

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