So some of our customers have to occasionally deal with translation issues of their technical publications, either for their customer instructions or even earlier, in the assembly stage. This is reasonable, since only 5% of the world speaks English, 12% speaks Chinese, and 62% speak “Other”, meaning none of the major languages you could name.
So it’s reasonable to translate text that you have in your technical publications. What’s unreasonable is having text there in the first place. Consider this actual manual, which has been lambasted around the web and in my live presentations:
That’s my cable provider, and let me tell you, it really makes you feel cherished as a customer when you sign up for their service and that’s the first thing you get. How much of that text information gets through to the customer, do you think? Was it worth the time for somebody to write and edit that?
But you have to have SOME text in your assembly instructions, you say. Even if it’s not as much as above, customers need words to understand things, you say. Consider this manual below, helpfully translated into 12 languages:
Besides the silliness of having a balloon number “4” immediately above the actual inset of what number 4 represents (why not just put the picture inset where the balloon is and cut out two steps for the reader?), let’s look at what this “helpful text” actually accomplishes by zooming in on lucky number 4:
So the operating theory here is, even after seeing an obvious cartoon image of a ruler, and having the actual ruler in their hands to look directly at, we need to translate the word “ruler” into 12 languages so that the user can understand what that thing is? And you want to give those people sharp objects? (And thank goodness they translated “5 cm” into all those 12 languages too. One shudders to imagine what would have happened if they had translated “5 cm” only 11 or 10 times.)
But these are bad examples, you say. Normal text in instructions DOES serve a purpose. How else would people understand what objects have to be attached, pushed, moved or turned in some specific order? Oh, I don’t know, maybe like this:
Are those first three steps to prepare a 1911 Smith and Wesson handgun for inspection pretty clear? Or would you rather have this:
(I’ll show Figures 5 and 6 in a later webinar, and you’ll see, they don’t add much to the text.)
But I forgot the warnings, you say. Those are the most important part! Fine, if you want warnings about not pointing the gun at people and keeping your finger off the trigger during step 1, just do this:
With a modern 3D illustration software like SolidWorks Composer, that composite image above took all of a few minutes to make (and will update if your SolidWorks model ever changes). In fact, all my example steps for the handgun came directly out of SolidWorks Composer, with no post-processing in Photoshop or Illustrator needed for the arrows or insets.
And how much translation do they need? Could a Chinese speaker, or German speaker, or that 62% of the world who doesn’t speak one of the languages that translating services offer, could they understand the 3D instructions?
And how about the overworked, rushed folks on your assembly floor? The ones who have to squint at stacks of black and white instructions every day, do every step exactly right, but still have to increase how fast they do things every year? Is text with the occasional image the best way to get them information in the year 2013, or is there a better paradigm?
CAPINC’s holding a webinar on that subject on Tuesday, September 24th at 12:15, where I try to take that 1911 manual I found on-line and make a cleaner, faster, more understandable version, using 3D CAD tools and some common sense. I’m also going to try for a manual with no text, and thus no translation costs, to see if that’s possible. If you can’t join us on the 24th, the webinar will be recorded for later viewing, and please, let us know what you think the point of text in tech pubs is in the comments.
Next time on the Improving Tech Pubs series: Should tech pubs be static and dead, or interactive and alive?