Good instruction manual design isn’t about getting your work into the Museum of Modern Art, it is about the small changes you can make to improve a user’s experience.
Every guide should start with a one-page quick start set of instructions to get the purchaser using their new product as quickly as possible. If someone can’t figure out how to work their purchase, frustration can set it in an instant.
To avoid this pitfall, writers should be hired early on in the design process to work on the instruction manual design. It is not something that should be thrown together last minute to reach a shipping deadline.
But what are the most important aspects to focus on? And how do you know when you’ve done a good job? Keep reading to find out the three most important tips you need to consider during your design process.
1. Easy to Refer To
Information in a user guide needs to be organized hierarchically in order for your customer to be able to easily find it. This hierarchy can be symbolized with tabs or colors to divide them.
The divisions you make should be either the chronology of use, the frequency of use, the product’s functions, or expertise level of the user. Then you should classify the information you need to convey according to this system.
One of the best ways to denote importance is to use shading or emboldening to direct your reader’s attention.
Consult the User
When you write your guide you should sit down with actual users to find out what kinds of things they need to know. Go through a list of terms with them and decide what you might need to include in a glossary.
Also, find out what the issues are that they have with your product most often. That way you will know what to put in a troubleshooting section of your guide.
When you are putting your instructions together, make sure that you don’t unnecessarily cross-reference in your user manual. This can distract the user and make their task more frustrating and time-consuming.
2. Easy to Read
If they can’t find what they are looking for, your user is going to quickly get frustrated with their new product. Usually, this kind of confusion stems from a lack of keywords.
In order for your reader to find what they are looking for, they are going to scan for the buzz words that they think would be used in the guide. If the writer you hired worked freelance or is otherwise an outsider to the product’s design, then they won’t know what these words are and they may substitute with choices that don’t make as much sense.
Another issue instruction manual design can suffer from is the use of industry-based language that the customer won’t know. If the writer of the manual is too familiar with the product, they can start to use terms that the reader won’t understand.
It is important that you use simple words to describe your product’s features and the way to use them. That way your reader will be able to follow along without needing a reference guide for their reference guide.
Instruction manual design needs to be beneficial for all users. Make sure that you don’t use a font that is too small or in colors that the visually impaired can’t see. Your disabled customers will appreciate these considerations down the line.
It is also important that you choose a font style that your readers can easily glance at and understand. San-serif fonts are great for this. Avoid using multiple font styles because it can be distracting for the user.
If you need to denote importance, you can use white space and text boxes to single out small sections. You can also use italics and bold fonts sparingly. If you do choose to color code your text, make sure that you are consistent with your choices on various layouts, even if they are on different pages so you don’t confuse the user trying to learn how to assemble your product.
The most important part of giving instructions is making sure that you have the steps in the correct order and provide a visual path for your reader to follow. It is important to have a signal to the reader of what the next step will be such as numbering or lettering them.
You will need to avoid long paragraphs when you are writing to be sure that the reader will understand the content. It is also important to explain any symbols or icons that your reader may not recognize.
To write the best instructions, you should use the product while you are writing and then have an independent user verify the process using your instructions. Check that they are able to complete the task, can start and jump back in easily, and don’t have any issues with operating the product.
3. Explore the Product’s Features
Although your customer has already bought the product, they may not be familiar with all of its features. Too often instruction manuals give tips on how to use a feature but give little explanation for what that feature does or when you would want to use it.
Don’t assume your customer is an expert, introduce them to their new product and all of its incredible features. You don’t have to go about this in a salesman-like way, just get them excited about their purchase and show them how it will blow their expectations away.
The Best Instruction Manual Design
The primary goal of all instruction manual design is to bring the user the information they need to understand and use the product you have sold them. This is best done by hiring a writer during the development process that can work with the team to understand completely the information they will be sharing with the user.