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How to Create Visual Work Instructions Like a Pro

By: Ben Baldwin

December 22, 2022

How to Create Visual Work Instructions Like a Pro

How do you get the most out of your visual work instructions?

The answer is layering.

While images are the main component of visual work instructions, the best-performing work instructions layer different visual elements to ensure that employees see and take in 100% of the required information.

If employees only understand 80%-90% of the information you give them, then that means that 10%-20% of your vital knowledge is going nowhere.

This loss of knowledge is detrimental to your process.

However, with digital and visual tools that layer advanced visual information, every employee gains a complete understanding of their tasks and responsibilities at every step of the process.

First, Why Visual Work Instructions?

Visual work instructions are a manufacturing favorite because they align with how humans assimilate new knowledge. Above all other means, the human brain processes visual information first - up to 60,000 times faster than text alone. On top of that, people tend to only retain about 20% of what they read.

So, while implementing instructions is good, if you are using text work instructions, your workforce is struggling in 2 major ways:

  1. They are processing the information very slowly.
  2. They are forgetting most of what they read shortly after reading it.

These two factors can lead to quality errors, slow production, waste, and process dissonance among your employees. And can you blame them? Who wants to go back and forth between their work and simple text instructions all day long?

However, because visual work instruction software brings the benefit of fast comprehension, companies can experience the following benefits:

  • Procedural information is processed very quickly - 60,000 times faster.
  • Employees understand and retain the information for longer.
  • The information is easy to keep up to date.
  • Employees can help gather data through one interactive system.

Visual work Instructions tablet

5 Ways to Use Visual Work Instructions Like a Pro

As we said before, good visual work instructions are layered with various tools and visuals to maximize every bit of information within your instructions. This visual layering gives your workers the right information at the right time.

When using a work instruction software like VKS, the process of layering visual and instructional elements becomes fast, simple, and effective. With these capabilities in mind, there are 5 key ways for you to create visual work instructions like a pro.

1. Add Clear Pictures

Pictures are the foundation of your visual work instructions. They help convey a great deal of information and knowledge to your workers within an easy-to-use and understandable format.

There are 4 helpful tips and tricks to get the most out of your pictures and images

  1. Keep it simple: Despite digital images being an amazing tool to document and demonstrate knowledge, getting great pictures is a simple process, so be careful not to overthink it. If you need to show your operators how to press a button, take a picture of an operator pressing a button.

  2. Focus on perspective: Make sure the image is taken from the perspective of the operator. This key vantage point is especially important when working with smaller components that will move around during assembly.

  3. Don’t be afraid to take multiple photos: Having a good source of photos will enable you to get your visual work instructions right the first time. Get in close or take a step back when you need to.

  4. Leave room for additional information: Good visual work instructions are more than just pictures. With this in mind, visualize where your additional layers of visual instructions will go. Are you adding annotations or links within your document? Will you need to zoom in on a specific part of the picture?

pro tip

Pro Tip: Did you know you can document a process live during production? Use your tablet’s camera to take pictures directly from VKS and add your additional visual elements on the go!

2. Write Precise Annotations

While pictures convey an enormous amount of information quickly, visual work instruction authors can hone in on precise actions through various image and textual annotations. These additional elements are layered on top of your images to provide more detailed directives and context.

Within our work instruction software, users can choose between a variety of different types of annotations to best convey their directives.


  • Paragraph Annotation: This text box enables you to add clear textual directives to every photo. Anything that you need to specify with written language can be placed anywhere on the production step.

  • Label Annotation: Use this tool to identify certain items within your photos. The label annotation comes with a built-in arrow so you can point to important visual cues.

  • Picture-in-Picture Annotation: This annotation allows users to zoom in on specific items in a picture or add additional visual information to a single step.

  • Line Annotation: Create arrows and lines to point to specific items in your pictures.

  • Outline Annotation: Use these annotations to highlight specific content within your pictures and link to other guidebooks and web pages.

  • Droplet Annotation: Use droplet annotations to sequentially number steps for every procedure. These annotations can also be used in conjunction with ToolConnect IoT to connect your smart tools.

Visual work Instructions

pro tip

Pro Tip: Did you know that VKS has an instant translation feature? Our work instruction software can translate your instructions and annotations into 27+ languages, enabling facilities all around the globe to share and utilize the same visual work instructions.

When adding text to your visual work instructions, it's best to follow 3 rules

  1. Keep it concise: Make sure your text is concise and to the point. Because your instructions have pictures, your employees already have most of the wider context they need. Your text is only there to fine-tune the directions.

  2. Write with the operator’s skill level in mind: When adding annotations or writing instructions, it’s important to know your audience’s skill level. Your work instructions will need to look different if your workforce is composed of engineers or entry-level manufacturing operators.

  3. Maintain a standardized language: Across all of your instructions, it's important to get a uniform language. Use the same names and identifiers for all tools, parts, items, components, and processes.

Adrian Riojas, KONE Coal Valley Manufacturing Engineer, remarked on how great it's been to get a uniform language going with the use of visual work instructions.

“Our orientation process has been cut down to a quarter of the time it used to take. VKS helps us give new operators a point of reference first so they know and get familiarized with the terminology on the floor. It’s been a godsend to get a uniform language going.”

Adrian Riojas, KONE Coal Valley Manufacturing Engineer

3. Add Video

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a million. While videos do take time to watch, they can show operators how to perform complex movements that could be difficult to show using only pictures.

Justin Hart, Watchfire Signs Project Admin Engineer, shared how much his team enjoys adding video to their visual instructions for their high-end LED billboards and signs.

“The processes as well as the operators have really benefited from the video capability. We get to show someone do the work and not rely heavily on a description of the procedure. It gives us the freedom to provide a wider context for complex jobs.”

Justin Hart, Watchfire Signs Project Admin Engineer

When adding videos to your guidebooks, there are 3 key rules you can follow

  1. Keep the video clips short: Since videos take time to watch, the shorter the clip, the better. GIFs are a great way to repeatedly show operators how to perform specific movements or tasks.

  2. Limit the amount of talking: We’re not saying that talking is bad, but within a loud manufacturing environment, it can be hard for employees to hear any instructional dialogue. For this reason, it's best to rely on visuals and not any auditory cues if possible.

  3. Shoot from the operator’s perspective: Just like with pictures, you’ll want what’s on the screen to reflect what the operator sees in real life.

4. Link and Integrate Additional Visual Materials

Sometimes, there are useful visual elements, such as blueprints or CAD drawings, that need to be accessible to your operators. But these elements don’t need to be present all the time.

How can you incorporate these elements while maintaining the ability to look at them only when you need to?

VKS enables guidebook authors to layer dynamic information by creating embedded links within the guidebook.

For instance, let's imagine you are building elevator cars

While you have a precise procedural guidebook, your engineers sometimes need to verify the specifications of a particular piece.

While assembling a new crankshaft, your engineer wants to review the 3D CAD drawings to verify that the piece from the supplier is within specification. Through linked visual materials, this process is quick and easy. Operators and engineers only need to click the link and they are brought to the corresponding CAD system and/or drawings.

Read More: Mitsubishi Elevators uses VKS to boost the quality and productivity of their assembly lines while increasing customer satisfaction..

5. Create Instructions for Both Beginners & Experts

One of the key benefits of visual work instructions is the opportunity to instruct and guide new employees right out of the gate. With minimal training, new employees need less training time because they have a set of detailed instructions guiding them every step of the way.

But what if you have experienced workers who have an expert-level understanding of the job? Some beginner instruction steps could impede their productivity since they only need to be directed with the crucial steps of the operation.

Our visual work instruction software allows guidebook authors to layer beginner and expert-level instructions in one guidebook.

Employee profiles

This is made possible through employee profiles and Expert Mode Access in VKS. When an experienced employee has Expert Mode Access, VKS will automatically skip the beginner instructions and only focus on the critical steps of the process.

This capability enables businesses to layer different levels of experience into every visual work instruction and strengthen every member of their team.

Bonus: Start Creating Your Visual Work Instructions Now

Visual work instructions start now

There’s a saying that goes: “the best time to start was yesterday, but the second best time is now.”

The best way to use visual work instructions like a pro is to start using them sooner rather than later. No matter if you have text instructions on Word, an old dusty binder of printed SOPs, or even nothing at all, it's never too late to begin creating visual work instructions that provide more information and knowledge for your workers.

If you already have work instructions in Microsoft Word, PDF files, or any other platform, we can help you transfer those files into our work instruction platform, enabling you to always step forward and grow with the best processes in the industry.

Read More: Curious to learn more about how to create the best visual work instructions? Read about the 10 easy steps to Good Work Instructions, or book a free demo with someone from our dedicated team!