When we talk about instruction manuals it is all about usability. According to ISO, usability refers to the effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which the users manage to achieve the specified goals in the given environment. In both the case of an instruction manual for a product use and the case of a work instruction, after reflecting on your experience you might have come to the same conclusion as I did – there aren’t that many instruction manual examples out there that can easily guide you through every step of the process and help you to effectively complete the needed task.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a good instruction good and what leads to a bad or even ugly user manual. The discoveries will give us insights into what needs to be changed when it comes to not so good instruction manuals and how the world of instructions can be improved.

I say we start off with a bad instruction manual example. Here it is:

Bad instruction manual example: assembly of Barbie’s house

 

What leads to dissatisfaction?

At first glance we can already see that this user manual is hardly going to meet good usability standards from a satisfaction point of view. A reason could be that the way in which the visuals are combined with the text is overwhelming and hard to follow. Moreover, the fact that the instruction manual is black and white and the images are illustrations rather than photos does not look realistic and it makes it difficult for the user to engage in actions.

 

What leads to inefficiency?

Looking further at this instruction manual does not help, as we come to see that it has efficiency issues as well. On one hand, the second part of the instruction comprises of numbered images, which theoretically could guide the user in starting the task and then following the steps of the instruction one by one until it is complete. On the other hand, it also has numbered images in the upper left side, which makes it unclear from where to start the task and what is the goal of each section. Therefore, because this instruction manual is hard to follow and the user loses time finding out where to start and what needs to be done, it results in inefficiency.

 

What leads to ineffectiveness?

The irony is that I started presenting this instruction by first looking at the downside of the page, then went back to the upper-left side, and only now to have arrived at what it is actually the beginning of the instruction. You don’t know yet what I am talking about?

That proves already that the way information is presented in this user manual leads to ineffectiveness. The beginning of the instruction is the picture that shows an overview of all the pieces from the box, which is actually a good choice for starting off the instruction as it helps the user to make a clear picture of what needs to be used in the task. However, the fact that the picture is placed in the upper right side of the instruction manual (instead of the left side which would enable the brain to use less cognitive effort) does not help the user in following a logical flow.

A positive aspect is that this instruction manual has warnings, which could prevent the user from making mistakes. However, as the warnings are not placed near the steps, the user might not find them handy at the moment he or she sees them. Hence, instead of paying attention to the warnings, the user might actually skip them.

All in all, this instruction manual is not effective enough as it does not help the user to easily complete each task and meet the specified goal.

 

 

Now, let’s see how a good instruction should look like. Here is an embedded live instruction manual example:

 

What leads to satisfaction?

Before looking into the details of this user manual example, we can already say that it looks better, it is more appealing, and it invites the user to get into action. The crystal clear visuals alongside the easy-to-follow text, both in perfect amounts and in great alignment with each other, explains why this guide immediately gives a better impression. Furthermore, swiping your way through the instructions above engages you even more into the task. Therefore, there is no doubt that this instruction manual meets the usability standards from a satisfaction point of view.

 

What leads to efficiency?

Going further into the details, this instruction manual example gives the impression of an easy-to-follow and user-friendly design. The first contact with the user manual shows an overview of all instructions (alongside representative pictures) to be followed one by one in order to complete the tasks. At the same time, the user can already see how many steps each instruction has, this way the user is cognitively prepared for what is going to happen next. Furthermore, there is no need to lose time understanding what needs to be done, nor searching for the steps that need to be made, the titles of the instructions are self-explanatory. For example, once you press on “Getting started”, the user manual guides you into the first step, the moment when the picture and the short, to the point, and action-oriented text is helping the user to easily perform the given task. Therefore, this instruction manual example is efficient as it allows users to easily meet the specified goal, with limited time and cognitive effort required.

 

 

What leads to effectiveness?

Not only that this instruction manual makes it so easy for users to complete each task and quickly meet the end goal, but this user manual is also error tolerant. When needed, warnings, tips, alternatives, and fixes come together with the step, making sure the user is not making unnecessary mistakes. Furthermore, the placement of these warnings, for example, is not distracting the user from the task and at the same time, it is easy to be found. Also, the transition from a step to another helps the user to easily perform the task. Once you finished an instruction, the system allows you to remain in the process, giving you to option to click “go to the next instruction” and continue by following the steps of the next instruction. Hence, we can definitely say that this user manual example meets great usability standards from an effectiveness point of view.

 

 

In conclusion, SwipeGuide gives a great example of an instruction manual that helps users meet the specified goals, having an easy, clear and intuitive design.