Household instructions

‘A manufacturer of household appliances wants you to develop a new instruction guide for one of their products that describes its various components and their functions as well as providing basic instructions on use. For example, if you choose to produce instructions for a vacuum cleaner, you’ll need to represent the parts of the machine as well as explaining how to empty it or recoil the lead. Identify any safety elements you need to include in your diagram and use standard visual formats to portray them.

Think about how your user will know what each component is, how you describe any movements within the instructions, and the role typography plays within your instructions. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a confident illustrator; this task isn’t about drawing accurately, but about how you choose to present information. Illustration is just one option; you might want to use photography or explore alternative ways of communicating your instructions.’

I have been putting off this task, as I’m struggling with the brief. Its really, really boring. When friends have asked me how this course is going, and I’ve mentioned instructional manuals, they laugh. Why do they laugh? Because its so boring. Now I know this must be an area some people specialise in, and as an illustration challenge it would be a good one, as diagrams have to be spot on. But as a general task. Ugh.

I just have to get that off my chest first.

Then I had a look at my stash of instruction manuals.

What is immediately noticeable about instruction manuals is the following:

They are usually in black and white

They are not eye catching or particularly visually appealing

They usually have a contents page

They use either photographic representation or drawings (not both)

They may use hands or arrows to show an action

They usually present step by step stages

This electric shower manual contains highly detailed diagrams as some of it is concerned with installation. However the main panel is easy enough to understand. Note: no arrows or hands!

You can see that the diagrams maintain a consistent angle on the same page…On the other you can see another technique – the relevant part is depicted in a deeper grey. This is a common convention – using tone to draw our attention to certain parts.

Look! A thumb! Its the only one in the whole booklet.

A combi boiler

Exploded views. Crikey!! Complicated eh. The arrows very clearly show the result of turning in each direction with the use of a plus and minus sign.

Dvd player – again using tone for emphasis. In real life the dvd player is black, but the less relevant parts are left pale. The cables double as arrows


Here the action is indicated by arrows


Of course we instantly understand the crosses are things we should avoid, and again directional arrows show us we should rotate the knob.

I chose to look at my toaster. I set up my tripod and used the camera to take a variety of photos, then I thought I would select the ones that would best show the action. Graphic designer John McWade ( comments that its best practice to place hands in a slightly artificial gesture to best show what if being done. I did my best to do this with my hands!

From this I selected the images that best ‘told the story’ baring in mind I could always crop the pictures to focus on the most relevant part. I should have made sketches on paper but I didn’t (sorry). You can probably detect a certain amount of impatience to get this done!!

I arranged the images in Illustrator and used a boring typeface (no frills here)

There were a few things to consider – here I’ve experimented with layout but decided the images do not need to fill the page. Especially as there is excess information in the images.

Also, what size to make a cross for the stuff you shouldn’t do? I chose the smaller one so you can more easily see the image below.

Instruction Manual for a Toaster

Done. Ugh, Don’t ask me to analyse this. I can’t stand any more.





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