Technical Specifications Don’t Have to Be Boring

Technical specifications are often over-looked when designing documents such as product datasheets and catalogs. A lot of time might be spent on layout design, but when it comes to the technical specifications, they usually get put in a table with not much afterthought. However, from numerous surveys that we have conducted with customers, the technical specifications are the most read section of product catalogs. So it’s of utmost importance that the reader can quickly find the relevant information that they are looking for.

I am currently working on re-designing the product catalog for Vanguard Instruments Company, Inc., and since this is a catalog of test instruments, we have plenty of technical specifications to work with. Here is the technical specifications table from the original catalog. I admit that I am guilty of designing the original and over-looking the technical specifications. It’s just a bunch of text, and if you are looking for a particular specification, you have to read through everything to find it:

technical specifications original
Technical Specifications Table (original design)

My approach to re-designing the technical specifications table was to treat it as infographics. By doing so, I developed some icons that can be used for common features between the various products. For example, most of the products include a built-in thermal printer and various computer interfaces. By using icons, the reader can quickly find out if a particular product has a built-in printer or a computer interface. Below is the re-designed table:

Technical Specifications Table (re-designed)
Technical Specifications Table (re-designed)

I originally thought that the use of icons might require more space and make the table too big, but actually it allowed for a two-column grid layout that was efficient and fit in exactly the same amount of space.

Technical documents can inherently be “boring”, but they shouldn’t have to be visually boring as well. The next time you are faced with those dreaded technical specifications, think of them as infographics and not just tables of text and numbers.

When Your Client Says “Be Creative”

I was recently commissioned to re-design all of the product datasheets and complete product catalog for Vanguard Instruments Company. At the first meeting with the client, I was provided with the existing catalog and simply told to “be creative” with the re-design. Usually when a graphic designer hears such a statement, they jump for joy thinking that they have total creative freedom, but it is of utmost importance to first determine what the client actually means by “creative”.

After thoroughly studying the original product catalog, I prepared a list of questions for the client for our next meeting. These included questions like:

  • What do you like about the existing catalog?
  • What do you not like about the existing catalog?
  • Are there particular colors that your business does not want to use?
  • What image would you like to convey with your catalog design – e.g. “modern”, “progressive”, “traditional”, etc.

After going over these questions in our second meeting, I determined that the biggest advantage that the client’s products had was the fact that they were very easy to use and offered simple user interfaces. The client emphasized that they wanted to convey this simplicity in the catalog design, so they were not looking for some avant-garde design that would win progressive graphic design awards, but a design that featured a clean layout that made it easy for customers and potential customers to quickly find the information they were looking for.

Following are some before and after examples of the completed project:

Original Product Catalog Cover
Original Product Catalog Cover
Re-designed Product Catalog Cover
Re-designed Product Catalog Cover

The original cover design was just very busy with no real focal point. Also, it featured specific products, which we wanted to avoid with the re-design. I simplified the design to highlight the industry that the client was in as opposed to showing specific products.

Original Inside Spread
Original Inside Spread
Re-designed Inside Spread
Re-designed Inside Spread

Again, the original inside spread was just too busy with too many images layered on top of each other, and too much text with no clear focal point. With my re-design, I focused on highlighting the client’s experience in the industry, providing a clear focal point.

Original Product Datasheet Spread
Original Product Datasheet Spread
Re-designed Product Datasheet Spread
Re-designed Product Datasheet Spread

The datasheet spreads were also simplified to provide clear access to the relevant product information. The client has since informed me that many of their customers have commented on how easy to read their datasheets are compared to their competitors’.

So the next time a client tells you to “be creative”, make sure to take the time to ask them what they mean! As designers, it’s always very exciting to be given free creative reign, but we must remember that it is of utmost importance to make sure that our work ultimately reflects the vision of the client and not our own egos.

NOTE: The re-designed product catalog can be downloaded from the Vanguard web site HERE.

Vegetarian Pho Soup for Rouxbe.com

My wife is currently taking the professional cook certification class at rouxbe.com, and she has officially designated me as her photographer for her assignments. This has been quite fun doing some food photography and of course tasting the great meals that she has been preparing!

Her latest assignment was to prepare vegetarian pho. I eat a lot of pho at some local restaurants, but we have never tried making it at home, so this was a really wonderful learning experience. It’s amazing how many herbs and spices go into this dish. The beautiful fragrance from this soup kept the house de-odorized for the rest of the week!

Vegetarian Pho Mise en Place
Vegetarian Pho Mise en Place
Vegetarian Pho Simmering
Vegetarian Pho Simmering
Vegetarian Pho Served
Vegetarian Pho Served

Connection Diagram for Vanguard CT-8000 S3 Circuit Breaker Analyzer

My latest project was to create a technical illustration demonstrating how to connect the Vanguard Instruments CT-8000 S3 circuit breaker analyzer. This involved creating the front-panel of the instrument from scratch and creating additional elements including a control circuit, circuit breaker icons, and a transducer illustration.

CT-8000 S3 Connection Diagrams