Documentation: Polytunnel People

As part of an assignment for university, I was asked to redesign an instruction manual. My lectures in Principles of Professional and Technical Communication and Information Design included readings from Tufte’s Visual Display of Quantities Information, Gestalt Principles of Design and Markel’s Technical Communication.

The idea behind this project was to apply design theories and technical communication best practice to improve and redesign a pre-existing instruction manual. I chose this artefact because I was quite proud of the result and I feel it displays my skills in design, technical communication and use of Microsoft Word.

Planning and Development

I began redesigning the instruction manual by printing and proofing the original instructions. I identified all the essential information and discarded duplicate or irrelevant information. I have no experience in putting together a Polytunnel and found myself researching Polytunnel manuals online to ensure the correct terminology was used.

I had trouble finding images to replace the parts shown in the original manual so used a mix of original graphics and redesigned graphics. Ideally, I would have taken new photos to replace the original black and white images. Markel and Selber state that the most common way to present an extended definition in technical communication is to include a graphic and then explain it (2018) and Tufte says that graphical displays “should serve a reasonably clear purpose; description, exploration, tabulation or decoration” (Tufte 2001, p. 13). With this in mind, I decided to create and include a diagram which shows a fully constructed polytunnel with corresponding parts (see page 5 of the instruction manual). 

If I were to complete this exercise for an instruction manual which was to be used in industry, it would be useful to have the parts of a polytunnel to hand to see how they connect or access to interview a subject matter expert. I would have liked to have added close-up pictures of the parts to the diagram, instead of relying on text to describe the part. 

Techniques

The colour scheme was inspired by nature. A polytunnel is associated with the outdoors, plants and farmland, so it was a natural choice to pick a green and brown scheme. I decided to design the manual in Microsoft Word as that is the desktop publishing application I am most familiar with. 

I designed this manual in paper size A5, with the intention that it would be printed, and spiral ring bound. The idea behind this was taken from the target audience – the reader would most likely be reading the manual outside, so a large, folded paper instruction manual would not be the most appropriate format. Most polytunnel instructions I found online suggested watching a video of someone constructing a polytunnel before attempting construction themselves. I included an RFID code in the introduction; this could be used with a smartphone to access a construction video.

Summary

I learnt how to write effective sentences, create an instruction manual with an attractive design and research unfamiliar topics. My specialism lies in IT, so it was good to research something new and outside of my comfort zone. You can view the final manual here.

Skills Demonstrated
  • Technical writing
  • Design
  • Research
Tools Used
  • Microsoft Word 2016

References

Markel, M. and Selber, S. (2018). Technical communication, 12th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Tufte, E. (2001). The visual display of quantitative information, 2nd ed. Graphics Press: Cheshire, Connecticut.

In one of my blog posts, I shared a link which included an informative slide show on Gestalt Principles, you can access it here.