Changes in Design - Instruction Manuals

One of the projects I often help clients with is Instruction Manuals. It's something I've worked on both while an employee and now as a 'virtual' team member,

We've all seen and used instruction manuals. Wether it's building a new bookcase or learning the buttons on the new TV remote. We open the box, look at the instructions, do what we need to then throw them away, or file them in that overfull box file in the spare room.

But have you ever wondered how instruction manuals (I'm going to call them IM's, it's quicker) have changed over the years? If you have noticed have you ever asked yourself why?

I found a copy of an old flat pack furniture IM on the internet. The Amarrt Furniture Bolton Corner Desk Unit.

It's 15 pages long and includes a 1 page 'before you start guide, and two pages on how to use the 'cam' lock - thats that funny round thing you slot the metal down looking thing into and tighten with a screwdriver - see above..

Here's the page on fixing the draw runners. As you can see, lots of words and honestly, I've read the whole manual I cannot understand it and I've put together A LOT of flat pack units over the years.

So lets look at similar pages from an IKEA IM. The diagrams are much more spaced out but apart from the step numbers there isn't a single word on them.

Now I know there is a lot of bad language used when putting IKEA units together and people often ask "why can't they just put some words on there" Well, the answer is COST. The same IM can be used in any country the product is sold. One set of design and art working costs, one HUGE print run cost AND no translation fees and no possibility for errors in translation.

More and more companies are moving towards a no word IM, even if they only sell in one country. The diversity of languages spoken in any one place is huge, on my street alone we have 8 different languages. the emphasis the moves to clear illustrations and simplifying each step so as not to overwhelm the user.

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