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.

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