Pictures vs Words

I submitted a sample draft of a User Guide to my client a few days ago and I got the feedback today. Most of it was fine, but this one comment made my left eye twitch:

Is there a way to reduce text and replace it by illustration like ikea user guide? I think it would be much efficient.

I don’t think using Ikea as the model is a good idea. Ikea has a reputation for having completely illegible and confusing picture-based instructions.

They say that a picture is worth 1000 words, and in certain cases, that’s very true. For example, this is true for art when each person can have their own interpretation of a piece of art and come up with their own 1000 words to describe it and have it be perfectly valid (if not, it’s at least open for debate).

But when it comes to technical instructions, each reader must come up with the same, precise 1000 words to successfully complete a task. This is the beauty of words because they are precise and specific, unlike a picture which is always open to the randomness of interpretation.

Words:  good. Words and Pictures: better. Pictures alone: risky. A friend pointed me to this great illustration at Retronaut:

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