The human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Actually, around 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Did you know that visuals have been found to improve learning by up to 400 percent?
Visuals are thus extremely important in instructional design. When you add visuals to your work instructions, teams on the shop floor can focus on the relevant details of each task and remove the potential ambiguity caused by text-only instructions. Each and every instruction made with the SwipeGuide instruction software is a combination of a clear visual and a short task-oriented sentence.
But what exactly is a “clear visual” in digital work instructions? Below we’ll give you our best practices on how to create the best instructional based on our own experiences in content production and academic research into instructional design.
1. Use the right equipment.
Producing quality images requires the right equipment. Images for SwipeGuide work instructions will be used on digital devices. Therefore they don’t need to be shot in the highest resolution - around 24 megapixels. However, you will need good equipment to get the best images. We have seen great shots taken with smartphones, but using an SLR camera will generally give you better quality and more options. High-quality SLR cameras are fairly affordable: shoot images and video like a pro for under $500.
2. Ensure proper lighting.
Proper lighting makes a huge difference in the quality of your image production. You don’t necessarily need a fully equipped photo studio, but you need to be able to shoot clear, well-lit images. You can Studio kits are available for around $100 and will allow your teams to ensure the best possible photo quality and clarity. Remember, mistakes caused by ambiguity on the shop floor cost a lot of money.
3. 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.
4. Remove distraction.
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.
5. Be consistent.
Consistency is key when creating an instruction in the SwipeGuide platform. As users swipe through a series of instructions, the steps should have the same look and feel to avoid confusion and distraction - the same goes for the visuals. 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 for the instructions better. For example, when shooting a product and/or model, make sure their position remains the same in a sequence of related images.
6. Carefully consider motion.
The instructional visuals 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).
7. 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 instruction visuals 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 visuals for your instructions. Good luck!