You really don't need to have any experience with distortion pedals in order to manipulate the Boss DS-1 Distortion. It's going to be a lot of beginner's first pedal at this price, so I'm sure Boss has kept this in mind and kept it simple for this reason. It's also got a pretty standard make up, as you'll find that a lot distortion and overdrive pedals share the same controls of gain, level, and tone as you'll find here. You definitely don't need the manual for use with the DS-1.
The Boss DS-1 Distortion is a pretty solid pedal for what it can do, but it's certainly not the most versatile distortion out there. For me, it's great for thick and heavy rhythm guitar parts or for piercing leads, as there's not much room for in between sounds in my opinion. It can of does what it does and you leave it at that. It's definitely more of a traditional distortion than anything else, as it's hard to get it to sound good while being subtle.
The Boss DS-1 Distortion is probably the best way for beginners to get involved with using distortion. The super cheap price will attract players of all kinds however, as it's definitely the cheapest quality distortion pedal out there. It's not going to give you a plethora of sounds, but is great at what it does. It's not the best distortion out there, but it's definitely not the worst and is at least worth a shot at this incredibly cheap price. This is going to be the pedal to get most players into using Boss gear, as it seems like almost everyone has one when they start playing. I'd definitely recommend picking one up if you're distortion-less and are looking for a cheap one.