7 Tips to Create Great Visuals for Instructions
The brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Actually, around 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. And did you know that visuals have been found to improve learning by up to 400 percent?*
Visuals are thus extremely important when it comes to instructional design and learning how to perform a new task. When you add visuals to your step-by-step instructions, your customer can focus on the relevant details of performing a task that may be unclear with only text. Each and every instruction made with the SwipeGuide instructional software is a combination of a clear image and a short, to-the-point and task-oriented sentence.
But what is actually a “clear visual” in user manuals? Here we’ll give you some tips on how to our create the best instructional visuals based on our own experiences in content production. Apply these to make sure you hit the nail on the head with your SwipeGuide user manuals!
Use the right equipment
For producing quality images you need good equipment. Images for SwipeGuide user manuals will be used on digital devices. Therefore they don’t need to be shot in highest resolution of around 24 megapixels. However, you will need good equipment to get the best images. We have seen cases of great shots made with smartphones, but using an SLR camera, in general, will give you better quality and more options. High-quality SLR cameras are fairly affordable and you can shoot images and video like a pro for under $500.
Ensure proper lighting
Proper lighting makes a huge difference in image production. You don’t necessarily need a fully equipped photo studio, but you need to be able to shoot clear images. That is where using a good set of lights comes in. You can get a studio kit for around $100 to shoot images that make your user manuals stand out.
Pick the right level of detail
SwipeGuide is optimized for mobile devices – your users should thus be able to have a clear view of how to perform a task even on a small screen. When shooting images for your user manuals you need to keep this in mind. With an SLR camera, you can do additional cropping after shooting the images. Sometimes it makes sense to shoot a bit wider and crop when editing the images.
When you have limited time when shooting you need to make sure that your composition is right. Make sure that relevant product details for a step (e.g. buttons) are clear. When the context is important, make sure you shoot a bit wider to give users a sense of where the action needs to take place in context. Also, correct focus on the relevant details is very important to keep in mind during the photoshoot.
Sometimes our customers ask if they can re-use marketing images for their user manuals. Of course, we like to be efficient, but marketing shots are usually different from instructions. In instructions, you want to have full focus on the thing a user needs to do in a certain step, without any distracting background noise. Thus we want to avoid images with a background setting. Instead, we advise using a clean, white background with all focus on where the action for a certain step is required. Also, make sure that your product is clean for the shoot. Always have a wet wipe handy to clean fingerprints and stains between shots. When using a (hand) model it’s also important not to show too much hand or body in the image.
Consistency is key when creating a SwipeGuide user manual. As users swipe through a series of instructions, the steps should have the same look and feel to avoid confusion and distraction. Don’t vary in set-up and background. Make sure that images have the same setting and level of detail to make the user experience better. For example, when shooting a product and/or model, make sure their position remains the same in a sequence of related images.
Carefully consider motion
The instructional images that you use show action in steps and a series of steps. In most cases, this motion can be captured in images. Sometimes you can have the feeling that you are not able to capture a complex motion in a shot. In these cases, you can shoot a series of 3-5 images to capture the motion. These images can be transformed into an animated GIF you can use in your SwipeGuide user manuals. Only if a motion is too complex to capture in a series of images, turn to video. A video is great but has an unwanted lock-in effect. That is why we advise limiting the amount and length of video you use in instructions (max. 7 sec).
Use a model
When your user manual is about operating a device, you might want to use a model. We see many cases where a hand model works well in conveying the instructional message clearly, for example how to hold something or where to press. If you want to reach top quality, a professional (hand) model can be helpful.
We see companies get excellent results when taking image production seriously. If you are not confident you can produce good quality images yourself, we have a list of professional partners that can help you in the process. Please share your own experiences and tips with us as you start producing images for your instructions. Good luck!
*based on research by 3M (2001).