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Illustration case study: remote support infographic

The following example is an illustration to show the process of monitoring software installed on to a company network. The software gathers various information about the environment and sends it to the provider’s main support hub. Such information can be used by support teams in order to quickly resolve any issues. 

Original version

One very common problem with technical illustration is that it is very tempting to insert screenshots of applications or web pages. There are a number of issues with this practice. Firstly, illustrations should be as simple and as clean as possible, using only icons or simple diagrams and concise text to convey a message. Remember, an illustration, in most cases, is used to support text in the document. It is not intended to encapsulate the entire subject under discussion. More it is a summary, a complement to the text. The reader does not really care what a website looks like; they only need to know of its existence. Most web applications and pages generally occupy a large area and to place them into an illustration can require scaling the image down by as much as 90%. At this scale, any definition is lost, becomes unreadable and is discarded by the viewer. Therefore, it is simply not needed.

Using an icon for a website instead of a screenshot means that the illustration does not have to be updated should the web page design change. When an illustration use web pages then one can assume that the web address would be included in the supporting copy.

Obviously, screenshots do need to be used in technical manuals or instruction documents but these would be reproduced at roughly 100% and very often only a particular part of a screenshot would be reproduced. 

In the revised version, iconography is used to explain each concept and a browser glyph used to represent a web application. As each icon is also labelled, an actual screenshot is not required. 

The major change in the revised version is a better use of strokes and fills for the various panels. In the original version, the same style box is used and one might ask how they are related, or be tempted to ask whether they are even required at all?

Revised version

Here, there are two concepts being explained: a local and a remote environment. To distinguish between the two, the revised version uses white boxes for the local environment and filled boxes for the remote. This very clearly highlights that there are two distinct areas under discussion. It also adds a further aesthetic quality to the illustration. The dotted stroke for the first two panel was purely a personal choice but it makes sense to have the various elements enclosed within an object. As there are a lot of blue strokes used in the contained icons, using a solid stroke for these panels ‘overloaded’ the design.

In the second panel, there are two lines connecting two web site elements which would indicate that they communicate with each other, sending information back and forth. If communication was only one way then the single arrow in the original would have a clearly defined arrow. As this is not the case, it is assumed that communication is bidirectional, though this would be verified with the client.

Note that the filled arrow leading from the local environment to the remote contains a padlock glyph to indicate that this process is secure. The original version simply has a filled rectangle with the padlock above it and text explaining that this is a secure connection. This is an illustration aimed predominantly at IT professionals. We can assume that an IT-literate person understands that a padlock glyph indicates security. It is also likely that the existence of a secure connection would also be mentioned in the accompanying text. It is also mentioned in the first filled panel and so there would be a discussion with the client as to whether this text was actually needed. In the revised version, these three elements have been consolidated into a single element, hence the fill. 

Finally, the bullets have been removed from the third panel. Whilst bullets are useful, they tend to be over-used. Generally, one should only use bullets when creating lists of related information. In this example, there is more than enough room in the panel to have each point as a wide-space paragraph. To further emphasise this, a dotted line is used to separate each paragraph,  though this is purely an aesthetic choice and may be safely removed. Also, in keeping with the design of the illustration as a whole, icons may also be used to represent these points. Again, this would be the subject for discussion. Also notice that in the third panel, the title has been converted to lower case. Different cases should never be mixed.