Tucked away in the lower level of Cherokee Mills in Knoxville is a company with a big footprint in the world of instruction “manuals” in sectors as diverse as kitchen utensils, the “Do It Yourself” (DIY) arena and even high technology equipment used in surgical operating rooms.
In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Rob Eddy, the company’s Vice President, noted that Infographics® is better known outside of Knoxville than it is here in its home city, in large part because of its customer base.
“We have a very unique niche in the marketplace”, Eddy said, adding that their customer base includes national and international firms like GE Healthcare, Husqvarna, Rubbermaid, Lowe’s and Viking Range Corporation.
Infographics was founded in 1995, and Eddy joined the company, then known as Hopps Communications, in 2003. He knew the firm because he had worked with them as one of its clients while at a subsidiary of Newell/Rubbermaid where he worked.
“Infographics are visual representations of information, data and knowledge – which is why we adopted the name,” Eddy explained. “Our firm creates visually-based communications tools that allow complicated things to be communicated quickly and clearly.”
Eddy describes Infographics as a firm of “information engineers” who “help our customers communicate complex, technical information and facilitate understanding.”
“We’re not a traditional ad agency – we don’t buy media or place magazine ads. We are really a technical design firm. Our focus and expertise is in communicating technical messages.”
In fact, Infographics has its own laboratory where its staff assembles and disassembles appliances, play sets, garage door openers and other devices to ensure that the instructions that they develop for assembly, operation and service are as clear and thorough as they can be – and to validate that they are correct.
A quick tour of the company’s offices reveals a focus not just on printed installation and service manuals but also an increasing emphasis on three-dimensional visual approaches, working with CAD/CAM platforms, developing animations, multi-media tools and even information access via mobile devices.
“Delivering the end product in as many ways as our clients want” is one of the current challenges that Infographics is addressing, Eddy said. He describes it as identifying the “dominant technology” or platforms for delivery, comparing it to Beta versus VHS formats years ago. “We’re working with tools to convert technical content into any a number of formats,” he said.
Eddy talked about the firm’s use of both motion graphics and animation in its instructional products. He described the former as “taking static images (pictures) and giving them motion, sliding them in and out” while he said the latter could be used for many applications including a three-dimensional explanation of how a kitchen disposal works.
“We can do a lot of things with animation and motion graphics to help make technical information clearer and easier to use,” he said. The technology used to communicate the information is reflected in the diversity and complexity of client engagements.
- Rubbermaid – an early and long-standing client – worked with Infographics to develop instructions in 24 different languages for products with global distribution. In meeting the goals, Infographics focused on things like eliminating verbiage and communicating as much as possible visually.
- GE Healthcare engaged the firm to develop a quick reference guide for its equipment used in surgical suites. “They wanted something that could be in the surgical suite to quickly communicate how to assemble some of the complicated equipment used for brain surgery,” Eddy said.
- Oxo works with Infographics to develop easy-to-use assembly and operating instructions for its kitchen gadgets and housewares.
- The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) works with Infographics in communicating its work with smart grid technology. Infographics helped EPRI to create an icon library to help ensure that the new technologies EPRI is working with are communicated clearly and consistently. EPRI also develops motion graphic videos to show how they’re partnering with utilities to implement the technology both domestically and around the world.
- A Toronto-based advertising agency used Infographics to create large visuals to show the agency’s global geographic reach.
- InSinkErator came to Infographics to have the firm develop web-based and 3-D interactive training programs for their service organization. “You can do things with 3-D that you just can’t do with other formats,” Eddy said.
Infographics’ work with its clients typically flows through a well-defined process – with phases including discovery, evaluation and analysis, content development (messages), content design, editing and proofing, and formatting and delivery.
“We try to leverage our clients’ knowledge and expertise and add our expertise in technical and visual communications,” Eddy said. “We don’t have what we call product bias; we try to bring a completely fresh perspective and focus on how people are going to use the information.”
Eddy added that it is also important to focus on how the information will be presented in the final product. “It’s not enough to have the right information,” he said. “You have to break it down and make it look right and flow right. In addition to developing and presenting the right content, you have to understand how to handle design elements like type, font, line spacing and layout.”
Eddy cited an example of a client that had a 50 percent product return rate with its high-tech product. He said Infographics helped them to improve their instructions and dramatically reduced their product returns. Research has shown that many consumers of high-tech products will try to follow the instructions for about 20 minutes – “If they aren’t making progress, they give-up and return the product,” he said. The benefit of good instructions is not only fewer returns but also repeat business. “Companies that invest in better instructions and product communications have higher customer satisfaction rates and lower consumer support costs.”
Now in their 17th year of doing business, Eddy is proud of the longevity of Infographics employees, noting that the least tenured person has been with the company more than five years. The company hopes to do more business with technology companies locally and believes that “the talent is here if we need it” as the business grows. “You do have to have the right brain-left brain capability” to succeed at Infographics, Eddy said.
He is also optimistic that the future is bright, noting that it’s been a “rough couple of years,” particularly for many of the firm’s DIY clients.
“We’re hoping that we can continue to grow and expand in this unique niche and lend our expertise to the many high-tech and innovative companies right here in our back yard,” he said.