20 year content strategy veteran, Sharon Burton. Sharon Burton consults about content strategy, content business issues, social media and managing post-sales customer experience issues.

5 ways your product instructions suck (and why this is a bad user experience)

5 ways your product instructions suck (and why this is a bad user experience)

No one likes to think that the product instructions they worked hard to create and spent a lot of money on aren’t top notch. But the truth is, there’s a lot of bad product instructions out there. And it’s negatively impacting the user experience.

How do you know if your product instructions are bad? In no order of importance:

5 ways your product instructions suck

  1. Future tense with lots of conditionals.
    Why this sucks: Future tense adds uncertainty to when things happen. Customers need to feel things will happen in a timely manner. Conditionals add uncertainty that things will happen at all. “The Print screen should appear.” Or not. It’s hard to know. Product instructions are the expert voice of the product and add to the customer experience. If you don’t know if and when something happens, what does that say to the customer?
  2. No useful pictures.
    Why this sucks: Some of your audience are really good at getting information from pictures. They like diagrams and flow charts. They especially like them to understand the big picture. If you don’t include useful pictures, they struggle to see the big picture. On the other hand, including a screen capture of every possible thing the customer sees on the screen is not helpful to the user experience. No one is confused with a progress bar. No one.
  3. All instructions are video.
    Why this sucks: Most people want to know something simple when they look at product instructions. They want to know what value goes in a field or how the widget parts assemble right here. Making customers listen to and watch a 10 minute video, no matter how well produced, forces them to be passive and hope. They can’t scan to find the small piece of information they need to get on with things. It’s a very bad user experience.
  4. Developing content for the wrong audience.
    Why this sucks: The people using your product know things – they’re experts in some domains, maybe even your product domain. But they also may not be experts in your product domain. The way you need to talk to them is very different, depending on what they know. But unless you understand what they know, you either talk down to them or you talk way above their heads. Neither is good.
  5. Deliver only PDFs to your customer and to the support people.
    Why this sucks: While the content may be great, your content is unfindable. Especially is your content is in multiple PDFs that are not somehow linked in a common search. The only way this might work is if you are only delivering printed manuals to the customer but the support people still need a better way to find the information. Like a help system or integrating the content into the knowledgebase. Or something.

How do we make our product instructions useful to the customer?

This list is the first steps.It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a place to start looking to see if your product instructions are meeting your business needs and adding to the user experience.

I can help you discover if your instruction are helping your customers. And luckily, I’m looking for a new project! Now’s your chance.  Contact me at [email protected] and let’s find out together!

Did I miss any? Your thoughts?

By Sharon Burton

1 Comment

  1. I just finished a gig doing product instructions for consumer GPS devices. They provide a printed quick-start guide in the package, downloadable PDF on the support website. Maybe not optimum, but a good start. The printed and PDF docs have a reasonable mix of text and graphics. They also have FAQs and other support stuff available, but not that findable. Oddly, for most devices, the quick start guide is not available for download. In retrospect, maybe I should have included the qsg in the user manual as an appendix. Dang. Well, that would have bulked up the download substantially.
    I saw substantial room for improvement, but they don’t want to spend money on it right now.
    Well, it is their business to fix or not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.