Designing Innovative Technical Manuals


Technical manuals must be clear, concise, and consistent, but that doesn’t mean they have to be nondescript or visually unappealing. Technical writers can use creative design elements to enhance a manual’s quality and usability.

Brand Standards

Technical manuals are extensions of a company’s brand, meant for clients, employees, or sometimes both. Many companies have documented brand standards that govern the look and feel of the company’s brand. Technical writers should familiarize themselves with the company’s brand standards before including design elements into a manual.

The following list contains common brand standard elements:

  • Logos
  • Color schemes
  • Fonts
  • Image quality and tone

The Cover

A technical writer’s first opportunity to convey the company’s brand is the cover because it’s the first thing the audience sees. Keep it simple. You want the cover to represent the content on the pages that follow.

Use a high-quality image, rendering, or illustration of the product or process described in the manual.

Request a copy of the company’s logo without a white background, such as an EPS or Adobe Illustrator file. If you are designing in Microsoft Word, import a PNG with a transparent background.

The cover is the one place in the manual where the rules of technical documentation do not apply. Using the same font as the text in the manual, experiment with the cover text. Capitalize entire words; rotate text boxes to run vertically down the page border; create a box with a dark color fill and place white text on top to make key words stand out.

Headers and Footers

Headers and footers are prime design real estate in technical manuals. Include the following items in your header or footer:

  • Company logo
  • Document name
  • Page number
  • Section heading

As with the cover, keep headers and footers simple. Design should never distract, but instead should enhance the content on the page.

Incorporate the company’s color scheme in a box behind the page number or a rectangle that spans the width of the page or spread. Place the header text in white or a complementary color on top of the rectangle.

If your document is going to be printed full bleed, you can also include section tabs that run down the outside edge of pages for easy navigation.

Electronic Manuals

Technical documentation is no longer limited to the printed page. By investing in electronic documentation, you can do the following:

  • Save money: Significantly reduce costs by eliminating printing and physical distribution.
  • Simplify revisions: Electronic manuals are easy and quick to update. You don’t have to re-print your manual every time a product part or process changes.
  • Increase mobility: Technical manuals are used in the field. Electronic manuals can be easily accessible on mobile devices, and end users don’t have to worry about losing or damaging paper copies.
  • Include multimedia: Electronic manuals allow for multimedia elements that enhance user experience and comprehension. For example, an animation or video of a product assembly is more effective than a series of line drawings.

Electronic manuals can be interactive. Users can be directed to information based on a selected situation, or the manual can be customized for a specific type of user.

There are endless possibilities when designing creative technical manuals. At ProEdit, we have used these and many other innovative tools and processes to design technical manuals. Contact us today to find out more about how we can take your technical manual to the next level.

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