Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Making the easy look hard
A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes, but sometimes illustrations in technical documents make tasks seem more complicated than they really are. By way of example, I recently bought a new luggage identification tag. (A special thank you to the apparent baggage handling gorillas at United Airlines who managed to tear off my previous tag, which was attached with a leather strap.)
Pictured below are the instructions for opening the luggage tag so that you can write your contact information inside.
[image temporarily removed]
Here's how I would improve this illustration. First, the numbered callouts are not in logical order which makes them hard to find. Additionally, some parts are numbered in every view in which they appear, which overcomplicates the drawing. Finally, the reassembly instructions repeat the same numbering again, which is unnecessary because the process is simply the reverse of the steps you previously took. (In other words, there aren't any steps in the reassembly process that weren't already taken during disassembly.)
But of course illustrations and accompanying text work together, and here the text fails too . Ignoring the odd line break of the first line, notice that the task is misidentified. The customer's task is not to open the "unit," it's to write their identifying information on the card inside. Secondly, although I'm not a proponent of numbering steps unnecessarily, using alphabetic callouts and breaking this task into numbered steps would not only make it easier to read, it would make the reassembly process a lot more obvious. Also, some steps can be eliminated, such as turning the unit over (twice) to replace the transparent film. Finally, given that these instructions are supposed to be about opening the "unit," I'd eliminate the last sentence about attaching the tag to a suitcase. (Although, that is the other customer task embedded within these instructions.)
Oh, I can't forget the irony that this product is the "Easy I.D." by Samsonite. Presumably the writer wasn't aware of that.