Include as much useful information as possible with the product


The instructions that accompany a piece of equipment are potentially the most critical source of information for users. If they are not accessible and understandable, some users will be unable to set up, use their equipment or recover from errors or malfunctions without assistance. This assistance may be at the expense of the service provider with whom the user has the contract, as they have to answer customer queries, customer complaints, carry out home visits or in some cases they risk losing the customers business completely. A manual or guide that enables as many people as possible to set up and use their equipment as independently as possible is of benefit to both the service provider and the customer.

Research by Accenture has estimated that in 2011 US consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers, communication carriers and electronics retailers will spend an estimated $16.7 billion to receive, assess, repair, rebox, restock and resell returned merchandise. According to this research for more than two thirds of these costs (over $11 billion US Dollars) the products did not meet the customers expectations, or the customer believed that there was something wrong with the product, when in fact it was working perfectly.

The packaging that equipment arrives in is the first part of the product that a user sees. The information provided on the package has the power to make or break the set-up and installation of any piece of equipment. It therefore needs to be clear, concise and contain the essential information in order to minimise confusion and mistakes. This is of particular importance for people who have little of no prior experience of setting up or using the equipment in question.

Directions and techniques

Identify the most useful information to include (high priority)

Design information around the out-of-box experience.The customers experience, from purchasing a product to successfully using the product, should involve a natural task flow in which the required information is available when it is needed. It is useful to storyboard this task flow from the users point of view, starting with reading the packaging, opening it, retrieving the parts, putting them together, installing them in the home, plugging in, switching on and so on, right through to successfully watching television programmes and using all the equipments functionality. Walking through this process, ask what does the user need to know at this point?.

Convey clear information about the functions of the equipment. Where appropriate, use official recognised logos.

Include instructions for common home connecting scenarios for common combinations of equipment.

Provide a troubleshooting guide, including information about when the user needs to reboot the system.

Identify the most frequently asked questions to the customer service helpline. Revise the instruction manual to address the most common issues.

Include essential information on the packaging itself (high priority)

Identify and prioritise the key user information that must be included on the different layers of packaging. For example, the packaging might (1) identify the product, (2) list the product specifications, (3) list what is included in the packaging, (4) list what is not included in the packaging but is needed for the product to work, and so on. Identify which of these pieces of key information must be on the outermost packaging, which can be on the secondary packaging and which can be placed on the equipment itself (e.g. A Quick Set Up Guide sticker on the top of a set top box, which easily peels off).

Identify the critical steps that the user must take between opening the packaging and setting up the equipment. Can this be simplified? If possible, keep the initial set-up to a small number of critical steps (e.g. Three steps to Quick Set Up). Print these clearly on the packaging itself and number them. More detailed guidance can then be provided in the instruction manual or user guide.

Identify any other critical information, such as How to check for digital reception and include information about this on the packaging.

The packaging may contain lots of different pieces of information aimed at people, other than the user. For example, the product code for manufacturing staff and the product name, specifications and bar code for retail staff. This information should be grouped and presented in a way that distinguishes it from the information aimed at the user.

Provide information about the accessibility features of the product (high priority)

The packaging information should include details of any accessibility features that are included in the equipment. This may be the deciding factor for a customer buying this product or selecting one that is clearly labelled as having a particular accessibility feature.

If there is an accessibility help line or specific content access services, this should be included on the packaging information.

How can you test for this?

Run user tests with users from a range of age groups and including people with low literacy, cognitive impairments and reading disorders. Ask them to unpack, set up and use the product by referring to the information provided. It is particularly important to include people who have difficulty with technology (whether this is to do with sensory, cognitive or physical limitations or due to lack of experience with technology), but also include tech savvy users. User testing only with existing customers is not effective, as they are already able to use the technology. It is important to get feedback from people who are unable to use it at all (and hence are not customers) if you are to find design solutions for the problems they encounter.

Identify the most frequently asked questions to the customer service helpline. These will help you to identify what customers are looking for in a product and what they are not getting from your product as it is currently designed. Revise documentation and customer information accordingly.

Talk to your customers, request feedback on what they like and what they do not like. Let this information guide the design of both the equipment and the accompanying information.