Below are my notes and highlights from this session at Write The Docs Europe 2016 in Prague. This is part of a series I wrote during the conference. This is not meant to be transcriptions and may have missed points made during they talk. They solely reflect my interpretations of the talk.

What IKEA and Game Manuals Taught me About Technical Writing

by Chris Ward (15 minute talk)

How can we consider other fields where something is being taught and use that to inform us as technical writers? This could be fields like instruction manuals in products, game designers, etc.

A board game is a series of steps that need to be followed and understood by the user.

This started when Chris began thinking about designing his own board game. He quickly realized that it needed to work, be enjoyable, the components had to work together and the rules have to make sense. This is a lot of detail to be conveyed to the player. This is surprisingly hard. Talking to other game designers he discovered there is also a lot math involved.

Around the same time he began to notice the large number of IKEA manuals that have come into his life. They also need to convey a lot of detail and make it usable by lots of different audiences.

IKEA manuals use the interesting tactic of telling you about the parts without unnecessary naming or identification challenges. Complicated game setups are often more easily explained through board setup and motion diagrams instead of text. The key finding is that you should use interactivity and similar aids, especially for new users as they can drive additional comprehension.

Board Games also showed him a path for making great docs:

  • Test with people.
  • If order is essential, guide users.
  • Be inclusive. Think about iconography and how to eliminate text and translation concerns.
  • Create consistent bite sized concepts.
  • Don’t alienate the reader with concepts that make them feel stupid.

It also showed him that he needed to:

  • allow for and accept feedback.
  • actually look at the feedback.
  • get help with testing.