This post was directly inspired by a post of the same name on Kathy Sierra’s “Creating Passionate Users” blog. Even though Mrs. Sierra ended that blog in 2007, I find myself using the ideas from that blog at least once a week at CAPINC, and you can read the great original post here.
Kathy’s point can be summed up in one question and a picture she created to answer it. She asked: “How do we treat our customers before and after they buy?” Here’s her answer:
Why do we consistently do this? Why do we trot out the most compelling, most readable, most colorful images to get customers, and then have dry, boring, and often confusing black and white images with mountains of text to make them successful in using our products? (And this applies to internal shop floor instructions as well. They always look like the ‘manuals’ above.)
Is it because we think color shouldn’t be used when explaining technical details? No, I’ve already dealt with the amazing benefits of color for comprehension in a previous blog post.
Is it because we think text is a better way to explain physical instructions than a picture? Well, we’ve covered that before as well.
No, it’s because of an attitude. Brochures are seen as an investment, since they ‘get’ new customers, so Marketing spares no expense to make them welcoming and usable. Assembly instructions and operation manuals are seen as a cost, and usually created by engineers who are being pressured to get them done as fast as possible.
But what if one wanted to reduce the ‘cost’ of customers calling your support hotline all the time, because Steps 3-7 are always hard to understand? Or the ‘cost’ of customers giving you bad reviews on-line because they kind of know how to use the product, but not why. (As Kathy points out on her blog, it’s less important for new camera users to know where the shutter speed adjustment button is, than to know why and when the shutter speed should be adjusted. Why leads to more capable, happier users, but most manuals always focus on where.)
And how would Marketing feel about this review:
All those millions spent on Dyson TV commercials, and they lost a customer because their manuals didn’t explain how to fit the base to the top easily enough! What if they had used this image instead:
Is that image reader-friendly? Easy for Ethel to understand? And here’s the crazy thing: if you have 3D models, that image takes the same amount of time to create as the one that lost Ethel as a customer!
Engineers usually don’t make images like that because they’re being told to make the manuals as fast as possible to get back to ‘real’ engineering work. Marketing can’t make images like that because they have no easy way of manipulating the 3D models and asking engineers for pretty, step-by-step exploded screen shots gets them nasty looks.
This is why CAPINC offers SolidWorks Composer. It’s a software package that bridges the gap between SolidWorks and marketing tools like Photoshop or Illustrator so that anyone can manipulate, hide, explode, and annotate 3D models to make images like above, in less time than their current manuals take. (We can guarantee time savings because Composer images update when Engineering changes the CAD model. Hand drawn images, photos, or screenshots don’t.)
With Composer, now there’s no barrier to having colorful, compelling, reader-friendly and yes, usable manuals which will turn your new customers into expert users, and thus your best evangelists for your product. All it takes is an attitude shift, realizing that Marketing should make your manuals.
Next time on Improving Tech Pubs: Static images are okay, but wouldn’t Videos be even better? When to use (and NOT use) animations in your assembly instructions.