Good/Bad Design 7: Instructions

I spoke to two of my friends today and asked them what they thought was an example of good or bad design; things they would use everyday and possibly either get frustrated with or say, “Huh, that’s convenient.”

Their answers were mostly focused on bad designs as they spouted heated indignations about many things. These ideas strangely ranged from technology in general and how it makes us lazy, to the design of strapless bras. (Don’t ask me how we ended up on that subject because I’m not so sure I even know.)

crib instructions

Regardless, one large tangent we traversed was the poor design of instructions. Paper instructions, specifically. My friends had recently encountered the problem of trying to put together a baby crib and could not understand how it was so difficult to “put together four posts of wood.” They said they felt that the instructions were impossible to follow and had several opinions on the matter:

  • Picture instructions are good, except when the images are so difficult to decipher that you have no clue what you’re looking at.
  • It helps when different angles are portrayed.
  • Some people need textual instructions and therefore it should always be included.
  • It helps when the size of small parts, like screws, in the instructions match the ones in real life.
  • Descriptions need to be simplified and made easier to understand.

All very good points. This is obviously a list of frustrations, of which can be easily broken down into usability heuristics:

  • Picture instructions are good, except when the images are so difficult to decipher that you have no clue what you’re looking at.
    Match between system and real world: Create a clear connection between the system (instructions) and what the user understands and knows (or in this case, has to work with).
  • It helps when different angles are portrayed.
    Flexibility and efficiency of use: Different angles could help accelerate the amount of time this task requires by providing this information.
  • Some people need textual instructions and therefore it should always be included.
    Help: Even when a system is better without documentation, you should still provide that information to help those that need it.
  • It helps when the size of small parts, like screws, in the instructions match the ones in real life.
    Recognition: The system should use concepts familiar to the user and make objects, actions, and options visible to minimize the user’s memory load.
  • Descriptions need to be simplified and made easier to understand.
    Match between system and real world: The system should use words and phrases that make sense and are natural to the user.

Of this list, not every one of Jakob Nielsen’s usability heuristics are touched on, but I would definitely say they still apply.

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