A customer’s impression of a product is determined by their overall experience with the product. Every aspect of interaction with the product, such as the packaging, marketing, Web page, or customer service, can affect a customer’s opinion of the product. User manuals directly affect the customer’s experience. When users need to solve problems, they rely on their manuals to help them.
Nearly a decade ago, Samsung released its innovative digital camera technology and began competing with long-time market giants like Canon and Nikon. However, the product’s user manual had been criticized by customers. One Amazon customer review went so far as to say that the user manual was useless and there was no need to read it. This is a great example of how a bad experience with a component of the product can reflect badly on the product as a whole.
As a company that specializes in user manual development, we took this as an opportunity to analyze the manual and find critical problems. Based on our analysis, we proposed an improved manual and ended up entering a partnership with Samsung’s camera division.
Let’s look at the problems we found and how we corrected them.
The manual’s most serious problem was the table of contents. The chapters were not appropriately divided and titles were not clear enough to be useful. Users don’t read a manual like a story. Users want to quickly find information that can help solve their problems, so it’s important to organize content and name titles in a way that allows users to easily search content.
The table below compares the original chapters of the manual to our revisions.
In addition to rearranging the manual, we also added useful information that was not present in the original manual. For example, we noticed that the flash and ISO sections were separated in the original manual, but these features are useful when working together.
We also created new sections, such as “Quick reference” and “Basic troubleshooting,” and placed them right after the table of content so that various users with various purposes and needs can quickly find content.
Now let’s look at the improvements done at the content level.
The biggest problem is that the manual was not user-centered. In the table below, the description of the metering feature before the improvement does not tell users how to set that feature. It was explained on a previous page but was not referenced again. Since users do not read manuals like a regular book, from start to finish, this was a problem for users seeking specific information. The screenshot in the original manual doesn’t deliver any useful information, so its inclusion was essentially unnecessary. The description about the metering feature is also incorrect. The metering feature is used to select an area from the current scene to measure the exposure, not to “take brighter pictures.”
The improved manual shows the steps to set the option so that users can use this feature without referring to other pages. A more precise definition and clear steps increase the readability.
We also created better illustrations in order to clean up the design. We reduced the visual elements according to our design principles in order to keep images consistent, regardless of whether they are viewed in physical manual or computer screen.
The most important thing is our user-centered content development philosophy. If you know who the target users are and consider their point of view, improvements can be made easily.
The second important thing is manufacturers’ benefit. In this project, our goal was not only to improve the manual’s usability, but also to reduce the production cost. Global manufacturers spend a considerable amount of money to produce user manuals when you consider development and translation. Removing even one redundant sentence from a manual or writing sentences so that they could be used in multiple manuals can significantly reduce translation costs.
Since starting this project, we’ve continued working with this manufacturer to create the best manuals possible. Our main goal is to create manuals that are useful for customers and cost efficient for clients. While markets and preferences may change, good principles continue to be the foundation for effective documentation.