Instructions manuals can come in many forms, from IKEA furniture assembly instructions to quick start guides for household electronics. Whatever the need for a user manual, you’ll want to anticipate your audience’s need for finding information – and fast. Far too often, instructions manuals are too heavy on text, difficult to understand, and not easily accessible or searchable.
At AM Patent Drawings & Graphics, we have helped many clients create clear, easy-to-use instruction manuals. In this blog post, we offer some best practices for creating one of your own.
Begin with a promise
Have you ever noticed that those famous IKEA assembly guides always start out by including an illustration of the end result? It’s a neat little trick that leads their reader to believe that he or she can also assemble the object successfully. State the case for the end result upfront in your manual and this will help instill confidence in the process.
Focus on visuals
Did you know that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and that 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual? With statistics like these, it’s a wonder that still so many instructions manuals are too text heavy, leaving the human eye to fumble through long, dense paragraphs for information. Use visuals whenever possible when giving instructions, best illustrated through static images, illustrations, or animations. By combining clear imagery with short, concise text, the information in your manual will be even easier to understand.
Use the same perspective and view
When incorporating illustrations into your instruction manual, it’s best to render each successive picture from a single, unchanging point of view. This avoid confusing rotations or perspective changes that can make it more difficult for your audience to follow.
Focus on the task in your visuals
Many instruction manuals make the mistake of not breaking down the process into actionable steps, overwhelming the user from the very beginning. Each step in the manual should focus on a single problem, not the entire product itself.
Use videos when needed
Video clips can also help illustrate a step in your manual by capturing simple actions. Clips only need to be a few seconds long in order to be beneficial and ideally should not include voiceovers which are more difficult to translate. Video clips should be subtitled to aid in indexing and searching.
Use color coding when necessary
Although IKEA manuals are printed in black and white, they still utilize color coding for certain objects in their illustrations. In the below example, we can see a product that requires electrical illustration. By color coding the electrical wires in the image with different patterns, the user is able to obtain additional clarity about the specific wires.
Adapt to your reader
As the expert on your topic, some things may seem extremely simple to you as a creator and seem as if they are not even worth mentioning. This is a costly error when designing an instruction manual, as it’s important to put yourself in your audience’s shoes, since they might be entirely new to the subject.
Anticipate your reader’s questions
When designing your manual, constantly ask yourself questions from your intended audience’s viewpoint. What would they think about this explanation? What processes or steps might they find more confusing than others?
Clearly define industry jargon
Do you use terminology, acronyms, and other industry jargon in your manual? Explicitly define and explain them in a designated section for easy reference.
Use an online readability test
When writing an instruction manual, keep in mind you may be speaking to an audience of differing levels of education or experience. Use a readability test to determine if your text is appropriate for your target audience.
Do you need to translate your instruction manual into another language? Consider the background of your intended audience.
Distribute your manuals
With your instruction manual finally completed, it’s now time to distribute your manual to your clients. Publish them online while optimizing for phone and tablet devices. Consider adding a QR code for easy access. In addition, implement easy-to-use navigation and search functions in your manual with a table of contents and clearly numbered pages and subsections.
Update your content
We all know how frustrating it can be to be on the receiving end of information that is no longer up to date. A good instruction manual is one that is continually updated. Solicit feedback from your end users and review their comments, complaints, or other suggestions for improving your manual’s content.
Our expert team has over 45 years of graphics and illustration experience and can help you design an instruction manual that will impress your clients. Contact us to take the next step today!