At the dawn of time when we worked at Nokia Mobile Phones, we got the chance to create a cartoon-style user guide for a mobile phone. The project was challenging but fun, and with a multinational and multitalented team we did manage to create a user guide with plenty of pictures and very little text. User studies around the globe proved that users liked the guide, and our project even won a prize.

Lately at Adina, we have participated in customer projects in which the user guides of even rather complex devices are made with pictures only. The aim of the guides is to educate and instruct the user, and also to serve as a memory aid: once the user has learnt to use the device, but occasionally needs a reminder, it is quick and easy to glance through a short cartoon.

The process of creating a cartoon guide begins with the customer introducing the product to us and explaining who the users are and what is the situation and environment where the device will be used. After that, our team starts drawing diagrams and thinking about what actions should be portrayed in the user guide and with what kind of pictures. Once the customer has given our storyboard a blessing, it is time to let the graphics designer start the work.

It goes without saying that when creating a cartoon user guide, a top-class graphics designer is required (Adina has two!). The graphics designer must be able to draw clear, easy-to-understand pictures that leave no room for interpretation. Every beep and every blink of a led in the device must be portrayed to the user in a way that is easily understood. All extra details must be removed from each picture, and the main focus must be on the action depicted.

The pictures must also be easy on the eye. The neck or limbs of a human character in a cartoon mustn’t be severed midway through, and the details must be easy to distinguish. The image style needs to conform to the brand of the device. For example, if the pictures in the guide look childish, it diminishes the credibility of the device – unless we’re talking about toys, of course.

The template also plays a big part in a cartoon guide. There must be enough space for the pictures so that their details remain visible. The positioning of the pictures must be good, and the reading direction clearly indicated, so that the reader’s gaze doesn’t go wandering about. Logos, certification marks, or user guide codes must not disturb reading.

For the writer, the most refreshing aspect with cartoon guides is that for once you won’t hear complaints about how the readers don’t have the will or the energy to read the user guide.