I’ve had a great career in the graphic design and communication industry. And now, I have fulfilled a dream of owning my own business—along with a great business partner and friend—that is staffed with really bright and nice people.
I spent years designing pieces and campaigns that were clever and aesthetic, and perhaps even a bit uniquely creative from time to time. Now I’m in the business of creating pragmatic solutions that visually communicate information people can actually use, need and appreciate. Our company specializes in communicating “how-to” information, mostly for major manufacturers of consumer products. Our small, but talented, team of information designers creates practical, yet aesthetic, visuals that are logically organized and targeted for the user, either in print, online or any medium.
Sure, I miss the creative flair and cache of marketing and advertising pieces. The kudos you get doing WOW graphics and glamorous photo shoots. But now I’m doing work the real consumer in me missed having for years and years—technical communication products (instructions, user manuals) that the typical consumer (like me) can understand and use.
As a consumer, I often lost the joy of buying a new product once I opened the box. Why? I became frustrated with myself because the instructions left me feeling inadequate and…well, just too stupid to understand how to use, assemble or care for my brand new purchase! Information and data were given to me, sometimes in massive amounts, all assuming I should be able to follow it, understand it and enjoy my purchase. Sound familiar?
Many times it took me forever to understand the instructions. I wasn’t able to use my product immediately or actually USE all the features. Or even worse, I would put it together wrong and then reassemble it, wasting more time! I felt like a loser. In time, I came to the conclusion, “It’s NOT ME; it’s THEM!” Themmeaning the manufacturer, the product engineers, the technical writers, the product managers, and the CEOs, who refused to recognize the need to translate their proprietary data and languages into simple language that would actually communicate on my level as a consumer.
They were what I referred to as Product Elitist (OK, and worse) who really wanted to make me feel stupid while they used their internal knowledge and vocabulary to punish me and to demonstrate their superiority! And adding insult to injury, I paid money for the suffering. I bought into the marketing and didn’t return the products to avoid my own humiliation from my inability to understand the data! Aarrgh!!! And as I continued to create my own conspiracy theory against me—these same elitist, kept their jobs because no one in their organization was brave enough to admit or point out—THEY couldn’t understand them either!! As long as they could sell it and I was buying—they were OK with my suffering. That was my conspiracy theory and by God…I was sticking with it!
So, when I got the chance, I went into the business of trying to show them the errors of their ways, and guess what their first objection was? How much it cost! Providing documentation, instructions and helpful information their customers could understand, as a customer service, seemed to them TOO EXPENSIVE. Despite the fact it was a mere fraction of their marketing and advertising budgets to SELL us the goods and make us suffer through their proprietary jibber-jabber after the sale.
So, our little team began making our case on the value of doing a better job of communicating to customers in terms THEY could understand. Our case was based on reducing customer service calls, having fewer returns, and creating a loyal customer base that would buy more of products because of an improved ownership experience…things like that. Product manufacturers started, and continue, to come around thanks to my team’s hard work convincing them of the value of improved product information, companies seeing positive results…andan economy that tanked.
Yes, one good thing from the economy tanking is happening. Now that people have to spend their money more judiciously. They want MORE for their purchases. They want to be able to USE all the features. They want to ENJOY their new purchases faster with fewer hassles AFTER they take it out of the box. They want to LEARN about their products and not feel stupid trying to understand it. It really shouldn’t have been considered too much to ask for. But when times are good, hey what the heck, you can sell something for the label alone, right? We were glad to see some consumers finally woke up and manufacturers started caring.
Now that I’ve got this off my chest, I have a confession. I work with the very people I’ve sounded off about—and I LIKE working with them! My business and I depend on them for their expertise, input, and support. They are our partners and I respect their knowledge and enjoy their involvement. They’re vital to our success as a business and to the products we produce to communicate technical information specifically for the end-users.
Our goal is to EARN our clients’ respect and confidence by not completely recreating or glossing over their work or altering the accuracy and details required of it. Our job is to translate and communicate that information accurately and logically so that the masses can understand it, learn from it, and benefit from it.
Once that’s accomplished, the product development people that I once thought were conspiring against my fellow consumers and me, appreciate that we made sure all the work they put into their product and sweated over to develop for years is both used and appreciated by many more people. Then, a winning partnership between two very different disciplines is accomplished and everyone—from the people who invented and engineered the products, to the regular guy like me, who buys them—benefits.
Jim Kughler is general manager and president for Knoxville, Tennessee-based Infographics, a pioneer and leader in the development of innovative post-purchase product communications tools for consumer goods manufacturers. Jim began his career as a graphic designer after graduating from Indiana University. His 22 years of experience has covered the entire gamut of creative communications. From a graphic designer, to the manager of an in-house corporate graphic design studio he has experienced the process of corporate communications and marketing from the inside. From a sales representative in the emerging electronic age of printing and prepress in the 80’s to the late 90’s, to a director of sales over two teams in two states, Jim has spent his career providing design, sales and creative production consulting services to national brands such as: Philips, Magnavox, Philco, Sylvania, Rubbermaid, Yale, Sara Lee, Coca-Cola, TVA, Exxon-Mobil, Maytag, Meridian, Maxim, Trophy and Bayliner.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
We agree with a recent time is money study by Accenture, but think their experts overlooked one important topic—effective and efficient product instructions.
Here’s a portion of what Accenture’s report had to say:
Businesses that thoughtfully examine and measure the time customers spend with them, and then either reduce the time costs or enhance the time value of their offerings, can gain an advantage that will continue when the economy recovers. For companies looking to win over today’s more frugal customers, a focus on the value of time comes not a moment too soon.
Time, as they say, is money.
And no more so than in today’s tough economic environment: Companies find themselves in a bind, unable to find new ways to meet the customer’s relentless demand for lower costs and higher value. Is there a way out?
Yes. Accenture research and experience suggests that marketers can quickly enhance their offerings to make them both less costly and more attractive if they focus on time—specifically, on respecting or improving the value of their customers’ time, across the entire marketing lifecycle.
Accenture’s research focused primarily on manufacturers’ timesaving innovations (like Viking Range Corporation who offers a high-speed convection oven that cooks a five-pound chicken in 28 minutes) and even the manner in which customers shopped for products (online versus self-service checkouts, etc.), yet they overlooked one aspect of the marketing lifecycle that has big time-draining potential. That is, what actually takes place after the purchase, i.e., the real “out-of-the-box” experience?
You’ve heard the horror stories. Nightmares related to assembly or installation projects, especially with flat-pack furniture or toys during the holidays. Manufacturers now have a reliable resource to help circumvent customers’ wasted time and frustration when it comes to RTA or DIY products. Infographics, the pioneer and leader in the development of innovative post-purchase product communications for consumer goods, has years of experience helping companies build better instruction manuals. Their innovative and proprietary process has proven that logically written and well-illustrated instructions make all the difference when it comes to avoiding potential customer frustration and dissatisfaction with a product or brand.So what does this have to do with the time is money theory? Infographics believes that spending more time up front developing clear, concise and complete instructions leads to less time spent by the consumer during the assembly or installation process resulting in a more positive ownership experience. Additionally, Infographics believes that offering well-designed quick start, reference guides, and troubleshooting charts that include step-by-steps and visuals is another time accelerator for improving ownership experiences.
|Wordless Instructions by Infographics|
|Quick Reference Guide by Infographics|