A fresh, logical perspective
If we wish to change this, then I believe manufacturers, designers and regulators of IFUs need to look at the problem from a different perspective. In Sutherland’s book, the simple lesson is this: a plausible ‘why’ should not always be a prerequisite in deciding a ‘what’ when it comes to dealing with human behaviour. A better approach is to try a few experiments, detect the patterns, understand the contexts in which they work, and apply ‘psycho-logic’.
Indeed, while IFUs have often been designed with logical thinking, this may not be the best approach for ensuring an effective, user-based design. In my experience, when it comes to IFU design and instructing well – that is to reduce cognitive load and provide a positive onboarding experience – I am a firm believer that less is more.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of this, it is helpful to set aside the known constraints and start experimenting with the impact of providing users with less information. When users engage with instructions for the first time, it is important to remember that they will have preconceptions about device use before they’ve read the first word of your IFU. Instructions should be designed with these user preconceptions in mind and make use of the users’ mental models and expectations, leveraging them when the device works in a similar way or emphasising key differences when a device works in a manner that contradicts a known affordance or user expectation.
When you experiment with providing users with less information in a manner that leverages existing mental models, you will quickly learn that users can ‘fill in the blanks’ and grasp the core use of a product with very few, well-considered words and illustrations.