IKEA and the Art of Manual Writing

I just finished assembling an IKEA audio rack and I couldn't stop thinking about how great the concept of IKEA's manuals is. I wish hardware and software manufacturers were able to achieve the same effectiveness with their manuals.

Over the weekend, my girlfriend and I bought a new audio rack from IKEA to store stuff like the TV, the DVD recorder and what more. We've been searching for a nice one for ages but couldn't find one. So, we decided to get one from IKEA "for the time-being" and replace it when we find "the truly right one".

So, we went to the IKEA and bought the LIA Sömethæng (can't recall the exact name; who makes up these names anyway). After unpacking it, I was quite intimidated. The package contained over 200 (!!) parts, not counting each individual nail. The manual consisted of 31 steps, spread out over 28 pages. Pfew, what a challenge.

However, little over two hours later I was done and I could enjoy my new furniture. What seemed like an impossible task turned out to be a rather pleasant ride. On analyzing what made this so easy, the only thing I could think of was the manual (and the readily prepared parts of course).

IKEA has accomplished something amazing with their manuals. Mine did not contain a single word (makes it easy to sell the same furniture world-wide without taking all kinds of localization issues in mind) yet things were pretty easy to understand and follow.

I wish using my digital camera or mobile phone was explained so clearly. I'd be using much more of their functionality if their manuals were as accessible as IKEA's. I know I'll try to keep the IKEA concept in mind next time I author or review another user manual. Of course assembling furniture and using complex software can't be compared easily, but I think keeping the "keep it simple, stupid" concept from IKEA in mind can surely help in writing accessible manuals.


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On Saturday, February 24, 2007 11:06:55 PM Rob Keeling said:
I like IKEA too, but I think that there furniture should come with suggestions.
Don't have any children around, as the air often goes blue with swear words.
If you can have an electric screwdriver around it will make your life easier.
have a container to put all the little bits in, so that you don't lose them during the construction process.
When putting in dowels, us1e glue as well, it make the finished product stronger.
Thanks for a great website
On Friday, May 11, 2007 2:44:45 PM peter gabris said:
Obviously, Ikea writers are not told by their editors about the importance of the shelf space (an explanation for innocent readers: your book sells better if it is thick enough).
On Sunday, June 01, 2008 7:46:11 AM Andreas said:
IKEA item names are made up by IKEA staff, typically the secretaries. There are quite a few Swedish in jokes in the names.

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