With product deadlines there are a million things to get done, only time to do a thousand of them, and hard decisions have to be made. And since technical illustrations, assembly instructions and customer manuals are among the last things to get made for a design, it’s no surprise we see lot of manuals with multiple steps shortly listed relating to a single black and white image.
This is often done because a block of text is simple to write, a black and white drawing view with balloons is easy to make, and given enough effort, the end user could probably figure out enough of what’s going on in that image to get their job done.
But if you were a customer excited to assemble your new purchase, and you opened up the manual to find only that image, how would you feel? Let down? Annoyed? Frustrated? What if you got a manual full of step-by-step directions like below?
That’s a much more customer friendly image, and will lead to fewer errors if used for internal assembly workers. Why does this image and instructions work better?
How To Enhance Your Assembly Instruction and User Manual Formats
The first enhancement you should add to your document images is color. The skilled use of color makes any document easier to understand, and is always cheaper than having bad instructions. More than that, color images make your customers feel loved.
The second enhancement is focusing on the one step to one image ratio. It’s simple to see what’s happening in the above example, because it’s focusing on only one step. For each subsequent step, you’d have another clear, color image of just one thing happening.
The use of simple, slightly different images to highlight what changing in each step is called ‘Small Multiples’ (named by legendary graphic designer Edward Tufte), which we talk about in every Technical Illustration training class we run. Every now and then we see customer manuals that have one image per step, but more often than not, those images are broad and unclear and straight from the shop floor.
I’ve had the above example for two years now, and I still don’t know what a Center Limit Switch looks like. Sometimes shop floor photos can help, but if you really want to highlight something, it’s better to manipulate images in virtual reality and get something more obvious and clear.
You could never get a half-transparent image like above from the shop floor, but it’s simple to see how any modern CAD system would let you ghost the outer parts to see the ones inside. We made this one in SOLIDWORKS Composer, an add-in for SOLIDWORKS that makes technical illustrations easy.
Why Don’t More User Manuals And Assembly Instructions Follow These Guidelines?
Why don’t we see more instructions with color images, created in a CAD program, showing only one step at a time so that the reader can easily tell EXACTLY what’s going on?
It all comes down to time.
We talked about deadlines at the start of this article, and most engineers just don’t have the time to go out and learn a new tool when a deadline is bearing down.
Get A User Manual Or Assembly Guide Created For Free
Because we believe so strongly that making assembly instructions in SOLIDWORKS Composer takes essentially no time, we’re putting our money where our blog is. Send us your CAD assembly model and text of the assembly steps, and we’ll make the technical illustrations for your next manual for you. For free.
That means, if you had sent us a CAD assembly of that gear pump (in any format) and the text of your assembly steps, in less than two days we could have sent you back enough full-color small multiples to fully populate your manual.
We can make the images with text or without (without is the better choice if your instructions need to be localized, or translated into other languages). And we can use whatever highlight color you like (green works best for electronic formats, yellow for printed, and red should only be used sparingly).
Why Are We Doing This?
Seeing is believing. We want you to test out with a real life example how simple your technical document creation and updates could be. Some restrictions apply, so be sure to complete the application below, with CAD and word documents attached, and get started getting your free manual or assembly instructions created.
In the meantime, we’re going to put our money where our blog is a second way, by making a free manual for an organization that is making 3D printed prosthetics for kids that need them. If you want to see what lessons we learned about color, spacing and making better technical illustrations while helping kids out, watch the on-demand webinar below.