Wordless Instructions

posted in: Design Blog, User Experience | 0

Sometimes, we feel like the best way to communicate — in particular, to give instructions — is to use more words. If you describe something in more detail, it surely becomes clearer.

However, what percentage of users actually read the menu? And the thicker it is, the less likely users are to even open it.

Therefore, whenever possible, it’s better to go with fewer words, not more. In the best case scenario, a product would be so intuitive that it wouldn’t need any instructions at all.

Take, for example, clothing. Aside from a tag with washing instructions (which I admit that I rarely read either), clothing typically doesn’t come with many words attached. Even when it does, tags are pulled off immediately before wearing. So if there is an action that the user should take, how can it be communicated?

Below is a clever example of wordless instruction. As with pencil skirts and suit jackets and other types of formal wear, this jacket comes with the two bottom flaps sewn together and is meant to be cut before being worn. The manufacturers could have said so on a tag, or placed an instructional sticker nearby, but instead they opted for the simple and elegant solution of sewing with white thread. On a black jacket, the white stands out like a sore thumb, and it’s obviously not part of the design of the jacket. Without asking any questions, and without reading any words, you know to take out the scissors and cut the two flaps apart.

wordless instruction to cut jacket thread

(Yes, the thread above is fabricated. I had already finished cutting before I realized the wordless, instructional genius. So this is a digital replica of the jacket the way it came.)

Sure, it may be a step that you come to expect if you buy lots of formal wear, but I appreciate the loud and clear indicator. I have been that person that struggles with limited mobility in a pencil skirt until someone informs me that I am supposed to cut the obscure, thin black thread that I never noticed. By using thread with such high contrast and making an obnoxiously large pattern, the manufacturers make sure that you understand what is to be done — and all without a single word.

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