We all probably know from personal experience that user manuals are not the most fun to go through. Looking through a long list of information that seems to go on forever isn’t really that exciting. And having the luck of actually finding the specific information we are looking for? Well, for most users, that may seem like a small reward after putting in a lot of effort, scrolling, or flipping through what feels like an infinite number of pages.With users often being confronted with a bad experience when using user manuals, making your information accessible within them should be key.
So, here are 5 tips for making your user manuals more accessible and easy to use.
1. Find the optimal manual structure for your user
User manuals are known to contain all types of extensive information on functionalities, operations, guidelines, and steps to take when something isn’t working right. This means that when creating or optimizing such a big source of data, the structure is key! Not being able to find five simple steps to fix something can be very frustrating. Make sure to ensure your users have a good experience when finding the information they need by making it easily accessible. To implement an organized structure in your manual imagine walking in your users' shoes. For a general overview, use the main destinations of your user's journey as a division of chapters or fundamental bullet points. This also refers to when giving instructions on how to set something up or fix troubleshooting. Assisting your users step by step is extremely helpful, especially since users aren’t experts in your field.
2. Enable your users to search
If your manual is already structured and well-organized, it also doesn’t go without saying that your content should also be searchable. By enabling your users to search for the information they need, you are increasing the accessibility of your content for your users. Not to mention, searchable information ensures a good user experience as it saves time. Especially for users that quickly need to find an answer to their question, which - let’s face it - is in most cases, searchable content can be a blessing.
3. Keep it clear and simple
Flipping through a long list of data and steps is one thing, but trying to understand what you are supposed to do is another. Again, try to imagine that you are walking in your users' shoes. Ideally, your users should find the information they are looking for fast and immediately understand what they are supposed to do. While using a step-by-step approach as mentioned above, define your steps in a simple way. Since manuals can include a variety of information that can also be highly technical, avoid using language that is difficult to understand or is too abstract. This is extremely important, particularly when creating digital guides. Keep in mind that some of your users might require additional tools, like screenreaders, to access the information in your manual. The main goal of your manual should be to make your content accessible and easy to understand for everyone. Along with using clear language understandable for everyone, remember to keep it to the point and only display the information that is necessary for the situation at hand. As an example, try to avoid additional technical explanations that could be confusing or misunderstanding for the user.
4. Make it visual
They say ‘a picture says more than a thousand words’ and this definitely also applies to your manual. Defining clear steps and using simple language can also be supported by visual content that displays the task. Yet, looking back at your experience when following IKEA instructions, please be sure to limit the number of images you use to those that genuinely add to your description in order to prevent user confusion. Additionally, remember to clearly define symbols, icons, or codes, preferably on the same page as the picture instead of on the first pages of your manual. Nothing can be more annoying than having to flip back and forth between pages to find the name of a specific tool or part that your user to consider in their current situation.
When deciding what visual content to use, keep in mind that videos can also be very helpful. A video with subtitles not only offers a useful visual breakdown of each process, but when audio is added, you again increase the accessibility of your information for all users. And remember we suggested making your content searchable? Well, in the case of provided videos, be sure to remember to index your video subtitles in your search engine as well. By doing so, users who look up specific information will be able to access the precise action you demonstrate in your films.
Also keep in mind that in printed or digital manuals that aren’t able to display videos you can still signal that videos are available. Just add a QR-code or add a link to the video so that users can directly access it.
5. Accessibility to your expertise is key!
Manuals are there to help users in need and provide them with essential information that can help them in their specific situation. In order to be able to help a large variety of users, it’s important to make your content available and accessible to everyone. Yet, it is also important to remember that in some situations a step-by-step guide, image or video also might not be able to help. Even if your manual provides all the knowledge on the relevant topic, sometimes the best form of accessibility for information or guidance is just to talk to an expert directly. Allow your users to interact with you or an expert by giving them the option to live chat or get in touch.