RE: User documentation - drawings or photographs?

Subject: RE: User documentation - drawings or photographs?
From: "Dori Green" <dgreen -at- associatedbrands -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2008 08:49:46 -0500

Sylvia wrote:

It was my impression that vector graphics for user documentation was
professional" even if we try to have nice photographs of the products.

So, what is the recommendation? Drawings or Photographs and why?


1. It depends -- on your application and your users. I tried to
convert my folks to line drawings but they love photographs. They
refuse to use anything better than a point-and-shoot $200 digital camera
and won't even get a light screen or good lighting. It doesn't seem to
matter that the resulting photos are not usable -- it's just kewl to
have photos on the page so they want them and they insist on crowding
eight or ten of them onto a page along with the accompanying text so the
pictures are too small to be of any use anyway. What do I know, never
mind my courses in photojournalism or four years working on commercial
offset newspapers. There, that's my rant for the week. From my lips to
G-d's ears (and maybe yours) -- no illustration at all is better than
bad photographs! But these folks are my users, so they get what they
want. For now. It gives us a place to play Continuous Improvement.
Sometimes we just have to pick our battles, and getting _any_
instructions out to the point of use -- with a feeling of ownership and
engagement by the users -- is a big step forward. We can tweak the
instructions later.

2. That said, photographs often contain too much irrelevant and
distracting detail to function as a proper illustration for a specific

3. Photographs can also be difficult to reproduce with good detail
unless they are specially screened. Printing and photocopying equipment
has improved greatly in the last ten/twenty years and this is no longer
the issue it once was.

4. Color photographs in particular can be extreme memory-hogs. If you
have a lot of illustrations in your document and you still want to be
able to fit it onto a CD, you might want to consider line drawings
instead. If you're using a 2-gig jump drive, never mind.

5. At an STC dinner meeting or conference many years ago I learned a
very simple technique for using a pencil to trace a photograph onto
vellum so that the distracting details would be "edited out" and even a
non-artist like me could quickly produce a usable illustration. I have
used the same technique in MS Paint and Corel Photoshop to convert
photos into artwork. Photoshop will also do a credible job of
automatically converting photos into pencil drawings that can then be
further edited to remove detail.

Dori Green


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User documentation - drawings or photographs?: From: SB

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