Many of the products in our lives come with Instructions for Use (or “IFUs”)—toys, electronics, tools, prescriptions, and especially medical equipment—but have you ever stopped to think about all the decisions that went into the design, paper size, number and style of folds, the binding, and the paper finish?
Probably not, but there are people out there like Bob Loch, AlphaGraphics’ IFU expert, who play an instrumental role in making sure that the IFU in your hand, or hanging off the piece of medical equipment in your doctor’s office, was produced clearly, durably and cost-effectively.
We asked Bob to share some of the lessons he’s learned after decades of working with manufacturers to design and produce IFUs for all manner of products.
CAROLINE: What industries typically need IFUs?
BOB: Nearly all manufacturing companies. Everyone who makes a product for use needs instructions for that use. We do a lot of medical manufacturing IFUs and those are a little more complicated. There are a lot of requirements the IFUs must meet in order to pass inspection by the company’s compliance department. When it’s an IFU for a wristwatch there is more flexibility, but when it’s instructions on how to install a replacement knee, there are understandably more standards the IFU needs to meet.
CAROLINE: Please describe the range of forms that IFU’s can take in terms of design, materials, and format?
BOB: Some IFUs can be in 15 different languages. We’ve done some that were up to 100 pages and saddle stitched and others that folded down to fit into small boxes. Medical device IFUs often need to be mounted, Velcro-ed or chained to the device and laminated because they are in areas where they may need to be washed down.
CAROLINE: What decisions can manufacturers make when designing their IFUs that can keep costs down?
BOB: The biggest piece of advice I give our clients is to start with the final packaging and then work backwards. Most people operate in an 8.5 x 11 world and so their inclination is to start with a standard paper size and figure out how it needs to be cut or folded to fit into the packaging. But commercial printers aren’t constrained to 8.5 x 11 or 11 x 17 paper. The way to save money is to determine the correct starting paper size, which is determined by the size you will need it to be at the end. Every fold or cut costs money. The fewer times you have to handle a piece of material the better.
CAROLINE: Can you describe an example of how you helped a customer to achieve the desired results while saving time or money for them?
BOB: Someone once came in with an 8.5 x 11 page that needed to be folded several times to fit into a small box. The last tiny fold would have added twenty cents to the cost of each piece. We redesigned it into a simple double parallel fold on a custom sized piece of paper that wouldn’t require the last fold. Because it ran on the right size paper, the total cost per piece dropped to just 10 cents per piece. When you do a run of 10,000 pieces, that’s real savings.
CAROLINE: What other advice do you regularly give your customers with respect to designing IFUs?
BOB: Don’t design anything in Microsoft Word! Drafting copy in Word is one thing, but don’t do a layout in Word or Publisher. Our in-house graphic design firm, West End Creative, is available to do IFU layouts for companies that don’t have their own graphic design team. Having a properly laid out IFU is essential in order to get a high quality, properly printed final product.
CAROLINE: Why is it important for companies to find the right partner when it comes to producing their IFUs?
BOB: We take our jobs seriously. For medical manufacturers, people’s lives are at stake. Blurry, smudged or misprinted IFUs in a medical setting mean there are real and potentially dire consequences. For consumer products, we know that the IFUs are an extension of a company’s brand and need to be as high quality as the product it’s accompanying.
Do you need a partner to help you produce an IFU? Contact us about your next project.
Read our related case study about Vapotherm’s need for a quick turnaround on a set of IFUs for an overseas shipment of medical devices.
(The interview was edited for clarity and concision).