Universal Instructions.

Foolproofing doesn't mean your target market include fools, but it does ask key questions about the succinctness of your communications.

Universal Instructions.

Communication is key.

Even the best ideas and seemingly foolproof plans can be disrupted by misinterpretation, muddled attempts at collaboration, and lost tasks (and accountability!).

"Your work is done when it looks so simple that the consumer thinks they could have done it, which means they won’t appreciate how hard you worked."

— David Perell

Keeping everyone on the same page is vital to successful projects, which is why we built our own team management platform. To further illustrate to our team why effective, clear communication is so important, we asked them to tell us how to make a sandwich... Here's how it went:

The Peanut Butter and Jelly Challenge.

Mäd Challenge: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Lessons learnt.

As shown in our workshop, the simplest sounding tasks and instructions can be misinterpreted quickly. Individually, we took different steps for granted, and also assumed various hidden steps wouldn't need included.

Design for the minimum common denominator.

A good rule of thumb, is to look down the chain to what we call the MCD (minimum common denominator). Think of the idea or information at it's purest and simplest level: imagine you have to explain it to someone that has zero experience with the topic at hand.

Designing for the Lowest Common Denominator.
“The main challenge [are] the assumptions that you must throw out of the window when you are designing.”

For an extreme example, imagine you're explaining the sandwich process to an alien that's never seen bread, the ingredients, the packaging we use, the tools (for example the knife and the tray we used), or even what the finished sandwich should look like. Suddenly, you make less assumptions and can approach the task with focused clarity in a much more thorough manner.

Be careful with language.

Different cultures, localities, and even colloquial sub sections, may interpret words differently. Use the simplest and most universal wording when possible, to make processes as clear as possible to your entire audience.

A good practise would be to reread your instructions and remove/optimise the unnecessary. After all, you don't want to confuse or lose your readers with extra steps or wording that could be interpreted in multiple ways.

Streamline, but offer additional support.

Whilst our exercise demonstrated that 'spread the peanut butter on the bread' could be wildly misinterpreted to the jar itself being rolled about on the entire loaf, it would be fair to assume this would likely not happen in 99.99% of use cases. Therefore, whilst being careful and articulate would lead us to adding extra content and focus in our instructions, we'd be left with an arduous and tedious set of 30 steps for something incredibly simple.

Our advice here is to write out the full foolproof instruction set as a master-resource, but then utilise the 'common-sense' version as your standard instructions set. By offering a link to your full set, you give full support to the lower percentage of potentially confused consumers.

Final Thoughts.

We always encouraging further reading for self-development, but not everyone learns effectively from absorbing text alone. We are strong believers in also learning from action, which is why it can be so effective to train mental models and working practises through workshops and activities.

Try it for yourself.

Take something trivial, and attempt to deconstruct a process into step by step instructions. Then, see if you can purposely misinterpret your instructions at any point - if there are glaring flaws, try to tighten up your language further.

Great instructions simplify the complex, offering a clear path through confusion. There will always be a demand for those able to communicate with great clarity, offering accessibility to new topics and thoughts to the masses.