Instructive thinking – time to ditch the paper manuals?

Patricia Hume, Chief Executive Officer

Recently we bought a new washing machine because the old one wouldn’t drain. The new machine has processing power that would have been unimaginable at the turn of the century (talk about cycle times…), a host of intelligent features we’ll probably never learn to use, it can geto nto the Wi-Fi, and it wants to talk to my phone. It’s one of billions of IoT devices that have made their way into our lives, simultaneously humdrum (no pun intended) and genuinely remarkable. When the boffins first started talking about the IoT, it was this kind of idea that many people scoffed at.

But for all the sci-fi sophistication of this machine, the last thing the delivery guy did once he’d installed it was hand me a paper instruction manual. Eighty A5 pages of low-grade recycled paper, thousands of words of text, generic orthographic line drawings, lists of weird glyphs, and endless tables. It’s impenetrable. And, because I left it on the counter in the laundry room, it soon got wet and became even less useful.

I was struck by the technological gulf between this new appliance – which could probably run a Space Shuttle flight computer and a delicates wash at the same time – and the centuries-old learning experience wedged under the shrink-wrap like an afterthought. Don’t get me wrong, I love books – as content delivery mechanisms they excel – but the dissonance was heavy.

There is a point to this...

There is a point to this, which is that, shortly afterward, I was talking to a customer – a large furniture manufacturer – about their use case for the Envision platform. They are using Envision to streamline the production of their self-assembly instruction manuals, which is great – and will drive significant RoI in and of itself.

But the wider plan is to move these manuals fully into the digital realm. And I don’t mean putting PDFs on a website, or even making the content available in an easier to navigate set of web pages.

They want to create truly interactive assembly instructions, which let customers play with the real 3D CAD models of their products and components, so people can use their laptops or tablets or phones, to pop the models out of the manual, view them in 3D, rotate, pan, zoom in and out and so forth. The customer believes this is the future of their assembly manuals (albeit print instructions will persist to keep them on the right side of accessibility best practice).

Interacting is understanding

As we like to say at Canvas, seeing is believing but interacting is understanding – and we hear time and again that this is a far more effective way to communicate complex information.

Obviously (and thankfully) there was no assembly required with the new washing machine. But the fact remains that I soon abandoned the manual in favor of actually using the machine. I learned by interacting. Give me AR over print for this kind of experience any day, although it’s not seen the kind of practical uptake we might have expected. It will becoming to Envision before long, though, and I’m sure we’ll see some innovativeuse cases.

A week after we bought the new washing machine, it stopped draining just like the old one and we had to call the repair guy out.

Back at the beginning I should have tried interacting with the waste pipe under the sink. Turns out it was blocked. The old washing machine wasn’t even broken. Some learning experiences are more expensive than others.