Friday, 2 March 2012

Pram instruction manuals

I recently translated an instruction manual for a pram. It was the travel system type but the User Manual was focusing on the pushchair bit, i.e. the chassis and the seat. It took me right back to the time when we started our search for our travel system.

As a professional translator, I translate a lot of manuals, some of them better written than others but all of them with one thing in common: the wording chosen is so complicated when it could be explained so easily.

Do you remember the first time you tried to put it in the boot?
I dug out the instructions for our travel system, bought when I was rather pregnant after quite a lot of research and testing, and I read them again with my now non-pregnant not as sleep-deprived brain and they still seem so wordy. Manufacturers realise that: a) the brain shrinks during pregnancy and b) new parents don't tend to get much sleep, don't they?

In fact, if it wasn't for the fantastic woman who helped us in Kiddicare we probably would have never bought one! She was the blonde lady that you see in a lot of their videos, so professional and efficient. We've been really happy with our travel system.

I guess they have technical authors, not parents, write them and it just made me wonder, with all the brilliant things that the social media era is bringing, making it so easy to get parents involved with product development and testing, shouldn't they be getting a few parents together to write these things in plain English? Take a technical author or an expert from the company with a computer or pen and paper, a group of parents with one or more of the pushchair/pram/carrycot/attachments/accessories in question and let them play with it, give them time to figure it out after a demonstration, then let them write it down in their own words, intervening of course when necessary. Write it down correctly (no spelling mistakes please) using the usual graphics and layout, let them check it out and voilĂ  that's an instruction manual that you know every parent will understand, because it was written by people just like them.

Yes, I have an ulterior motive to ask this: it would make my life easier both as a parent and as a translator (it would help me minimise the hours I spend trying to figure out from the graphics what exactly they are trying to say), but it also would improve the quality of their working lives and business: impressed parents and positive feedback worldwide.

I read on a Spanish website the other day that a brand, I can't remember which one is fitting QR codes to all their pushchairs to allow people to scan them with their smartphones and find the manual straight away. I'm not sure whether the process will be as seamless as my explanation but I have to say, it's a good idea. I always have the pdfs on my computer, you know, just in case because with all of this there is always the safety aspect: we want to keep our little ones safe at all moments.

Did you find your pram's manual quite difficult to understand? Do you agree that asking parents to contribute to the writing process of a user manual would be an improvement or do you think it is a crazy idea?
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