A while back, I got a call from a company that was having issues with Illustrator at their company. They asked if I might come in and take a look at their systems, their files, and the workflow to help solve their issues and to offer advice for how to better manage their workflow.
Upon arriving at the client, they showed me something which I had honestly never seen before. It was an easel with a huge piece of foamcore board on it. Pinned, taped, and stuck to the board were printouts of screenshots. Each screenshot depicted an error dialog or system message that occurred during the use of Illustrator. There were probably close to a 100 printouts in total on what the IT department and the design team dubbed "The Crash Board".
Basically, it was nearly impossible for designers to accurately describe each problem that occurred, and more so, to wait for an IT person to come visit the design department to see the error. So IT instructed the design department to take a screenshot and print their screen each time something unexpected happened.
I had never seen a crash board before, but oh how wonderful it was for someone like me to see. Rather than have to jump from one workstation to another and interview designers on the problems they've been encountering, I had a pretty good idea just by looking at the Crash Board.
In fact, within moments, I was able to organize all of the errors into groups that I could quickly identify as having similar causes or symptoms. It also quickly became clear that some were system errors while others were Illustrator ones. It was also immediately apparent they were working on their files directly on a network server (rather than copying it to their local drives before opening, etc.). I was able to make some suggestions on workflow adjustments, and ended up spending time showing designers some cool tips and techniques to help them in their work rather than waste time trying to duplicate errors.
Especially so, if you consider that I have this problem in that computers seem to be aware of my presence. Just about every time a designer calls me to their desk to show me a problem they are having, the computer works just fine. If I had a dime for every time I've heard the phrase "ok, I swear this wasn't working a minute ago..."
In closing, I thought I'd offer a few tips that are sure to make support calls or searching for help that much easier:
1. Start your own crash board. Each time you experience an odd error dialog, take a screenshot and print it out. These will always help when trying to decipher the cause of repeating issues. Any IT department or support person would benefit greatly from reviewing these.
2. Keep a legal pad handy. Each time you see something odd happen, or something doesn't work as expected, jot it down. Also note when you tried doing a particular technique and either it didn't work or you couldn't figure out how to do it. This way, if you're ever at a conference, you'll have a list of questions to ask an expert (for example, at the Creative Suite conference in Chicago this October, there's a Help Clinic where people can even bring their files and have experts offer advice).
3. Keep a log of system changes. On a separate file or a pad, make a quick note each time you install a new application, an update, a system update, a new font that you've never used before, etc. Often, the first thing to look for when a system goes awry is, "what was the last thing that changed on your system?".
4. Share what you've learned. User to user forums and blogs like this one are great resources, but only because people share their own experiences. If you see something that you can't explain, others may be able to learn from that as well, and still others may be able to offer solutions or advice. Sharing what you know with others often has an added benefit -- you end up learning from others too :)
If you have any additional tips that have worked for you in the past, feel free to add them to the comments! Here's hoping you never have a problem or crash... but just in case, it's always good to be prepared.