Christmas has just come and gone.
We have two young kids and I spent a good deal of time putting toys together. It was a fascinating and frustrating experience.
Some of the toys were nearly thrown out of the window before they made it under the tree.
It's astonishing how bad some of instructions were for some toys. The images were blurry, the text was confusing and the presentation was appalling.
Then there was Lego, who seem to treat instructions as if they were a work of art.
The bad instructions
With bad documentation, not only are images and text often illegibly squeezed onto a single sheet of paper, but that black and white paper is crumpled in the bottom of the box.
Here are the instructions for a Barbie dream house.
Here are the instructions for a trampoline. Again, everything is black-and-white. The text is confusing and constantly refers to numbers that are referenced on other pages.
Here are part of the instructions for an outdoor play set. This is an even better example of all the problems mentioned above:
The Lego instructions
Now let's see how Lego handles instructions. You can download thousands of examples from the Lego website.
The full-color images are beautifully presented with clear, large images and numbers.
Lego doesn't try to squeeze all of the instructions onto a single, crappy piece of black-and-white paper. Each step is given its own page. Lego isn't afraid to make instruction books that are 50+ pages long, if that's required.
Here's an example from the Lego Ninja series:
In fact, the images here don't do the instructions full justice. The real instructions are printed on high-quality, glossy paper. It feels like handling a small art catalog.
Here's a page from the Empire State Building instructions:
Here's an example from a cafe, aimed at girls:
Notice there's no text on any of the pages. The illustrations are beautiful and clear enough to stand on their own.
Anyone speaking any language could follow Lego's instructions.
A 4-year old could follow these instruction. I know because my daughter managed it over Christmas.Instead of saving money by creating crappy instructions on a single sheet of black-and-white paper, Lego have gone above and beyond. The quality of their instructions is central to how much our family enjoyed the Lego toys.
What about our own instructions?
If you're reading this, you're probably used to dealing with software documentation.
Think about the software we use every day and present to our customers.
How much of our software documentation looks like the first examples: badly-presented, heavy on confusing text and treated as an after-thought?
How much better could our software be if we treated documentation as Lego does?
How much more popular and more beloved could our software be if we treated documentation as central to the entire experience?