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© 2009-2010 Ugur Akinci
The name of this blog is “Technical Communication Center” and not “Technical Writing Center” for a good reason – technical communication involves a lot more than just writing.
Writing clearly, correctly, and logically is certainly very important to technical communication and will remain so for decades to come. But more and more visual communication is making its inroads into the traditional domain of technical prose writing.
Globalization Requires Localization
One major reason why that is so is the process of globalization which has created a need for translation and “localization” like never before. Now every product is used by consumers coming from dozens of different social, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds and not all of them read or prefer to read English.
What a delicious irony isn’t it? “Globalization” requires “localization”… but it’s true.
Localization is fine except it’s not cheap. That’s why, in order to limit production costs to a minimum, product managers across the globe are also looking for ways to minimize their translation costs. And one way to do it is to replace as many words as possible with images, even to describe complicated procedural steps. Enter technical illustration. That’s why the future holds a good promise for technical illustrators.
Where do they use technical illustrations?
Here is a short list: user guides, marketing materials, installation and assembly guides, business reports, product catalogs, construction manuals, medical system documentation, public spaces like airports, system configuration guides.
CAD vs. Technical Illustration
There is one important distinction between the type of illustration I’m talking here and the traditional CAD (Computer Aided Design. CAD is wire-frame drawing mainly directed at engineers and production managers, whereas technical illustration is aimed at the end-user. However it’s different from a “creative illustration” in that it shows visually how a certain task is done or how a system works. It provides useful information that a user can act upon. It accomplishes that by showing cross-sections, procedural steps and mechanical details that cannot be achieved by photography, text or CAD alone.
Here is how PTC defines their differences in this great White Paper “Technical Illustration in the 21st Century” (see Resources 2):
“A technical DRAWING is used to design and manufacture a machine. It is always a scale representation of a unit or part… In technical drawing even the smallest detail must be defined precisely to ensure that the drawing is unambiguous.
Technical ILLUSTRATIONS, on the other hand, are in many ways the exact opposite. .. In a technical illustration, less is often more, in that less detail will make the picture more understandable. Here, it is not precision that is demanded but, rather, easy comprehension. The viewer should be able to identify the depicted part without requiring any special training as a draughtsperson.”
A) CAD Drawing
B) Technical Illustration
1) Here is a White Paper on the subject provided by Corel:
2) Another excellent White Paper by PTC: