The wordless manual: ideal for an international company like IKEA . . . and users like me

November 19, 2007

billy.jpgStill getting settled in our new house.
We have a ton of books (just ask our movers) and have decided to set up a small library at the back of our large living room.

The Billy bookshelves at IKEA were just the ticket for this project. Steve measured the wall space, did the math, and then picked out 7 large units and 5 narrow ones from the warehouse on the bottom floor of IKEA’s Atlanta store. They were delivered Saturday and on Sunday we began assembling them.

IKEA is a Swedish company with stores all over the world, from Iceland to China to Saudia Arabia. Imagine the translation costs for each set of assembly instructions for the multitude of build-it-yourself furniture they sell!

No worries. They do it exclusively with pictures! Ikea instructions

Here are some examples from the 8-page assembly instructions for our bookshelves. Note the warning messages.  

All of IKEA’s assembly instructions use the picture format with large, clear line drawings. When text is required, it is written succinctly and appears in 14 languages.

These wordless instructions succeed because IKEA builds simplicity into their products from the get-go. A minimum number of parts. Similar brackets and screws for each product. They have to do this because most of their customers assemble them themselves.

We had the option of paying for IKEA to come out to the house and build the shelves for us, but our final bill would have been two times the cost of the furniture.
Ikea wordless instructions

Here’s a link to the entire booklet for the shelves we purchased. All the IKEA instruction booklets are available online.

Should technical writers feel threatened by this?

No, but it demonstrates how effective  illustrations can be in technical communication. An appreciation for and understanding of the appropriate use of pictures should be part of our toolkit.

Well, gotta go. We’ve got 9 more bookcases to build and 326 boxes to open and sort before our Thanksgiving guests arrive.

Ikea parts

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