Often, assembly instructions are bad (example via Adafruit):

Assembly instructions from hell

But they don’t have to be: writing assembly instructions is a skill that can be learnt, and there are institutions which teach it.

IKEA is the world's largest furniture retailer, and as far as assembly instructions are concerned, their consumer-facing documents are among the most widespread.

Their instructions can be found here. For example, these are the instructions for one of their Billy bookcases.

In teaching how to write assembly instructions: copyright questions aside, should IKEA’s documents be used as good examples?

  • You do know they're copyrighted, yes? That means you need permission at least.
    – Bookeater
    Commented Feb 4, 2018 at 13:16
  • 1
    There's also fair use which might apply to a degree anyways.
    – Helmar
    Commented Feb 4, 2018 at 18:32
  • It makes me wonder if you could write technical manuals for software in such a way! Just illustrations of what buttons to press and in what order. It's a thought I suppose.
    – Mark Ireland
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 15:21
  • 1
    @MarkIreland Using software is not just about pushing buttons in an order, is it?
    – DyZ
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 17:54
  • 1
    @DYZ - no, it's not. But even just a little reduction in words could save a ton of localization.
    – Mark Ireland
    Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 19:25

3 Answers 3


I think they are great examples—if your use case matches. They never explain two things differently across all their products. Take the world's most sold book case, that Billy you referenced. It has only about seven instructions and it uses no single word—yet everyone is able to set it up.

No words takes all the translation efforts off the table as well. Remember however that their whole design and production process is aimed at keeping those instructions easy and the parts standardized. If you're not designing your product that way then you'll have a hard time reducing that manual to that simplicity.

The instructions are the result of fifty years of optimizing furniture design, packaging and the instruction itself. They only work that way if you reduce the amount of different parts and necessary tools that you can show distinctly what kind of part the drawings are referencing to. (Billy requires only two people, three tools, six connector parts and six panels.)

If you've got a similar setup it's a great example.


I'll add my prior experience to this: the purifier company for which I worked long ago used PLCs for controls on their more complex devices, and had previously spent huge time and effort to write convoluted text descriptions of both user and more technical operations of the onboard software; these descriptions were "baselined" that is, pulled from older manuals from "base models" into newer ones and marked up, to theoretically make them applicable to the newer model. As a result of this baselining method, they had significant issues with accuracy of these descriptions when I started - more than 25% error rates in critical areas, so I replaced almost all of it with screencaps and small text callouts, step-by-step images showing how-tos: both physical procedures like how-to-install and on-screen procedures such as resetting-the-thermocouples, or cold-starting-the-getter-bed.

This led to a huge increase in accuracy per manual per model AND better comprehension and use by both endusers and infield techs.

I still kept a lot of text heavy descriptions of chemistry, especially the stoichiometry and thermal interactions, but overall, I effectively "ikea-ised" those manuals and felt this was a very solid approach to improving quality, ease-of-maintenance, and clarity.

So, though they are oft-maligned, I think Ikea style manuals are an excellent exemplar of technical communications.


Ikea instructions are not the best example of inclusive design.

They aren’t accessible (AFAIK), and they are confusing for people with cognitive issues or learning disabilities.

Less words is good for internationalization, but not necessarily the best choice for inclusive, accessible documentation.

  • 1
    Is that a subjective claim or has there been some analysis of the inclusiveness?
    – Helmar
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 19:04
  • If you’re asking for quantified evidence, I do not have any to hand. However, the fact that the instructions rely heavily on images, and there’s a general a11y problem with many images not have alt-text or long descriptions, I’m going on a hunch. You are welcome to google for the experience of others.
    – Jean Kaplansky
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 22:35

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