Representing humans in technical illustrations

Good technical illustrations show not only the object but also the person handling it. So, how can we involve an actor without exceeding the budget and time limits? Vector-based mock-ups offer a solution.

Text by Marco Jänicke


Image: © prezent/

Instructional illustrations are a key component in supporting instructions in text form and making actions comprehensible. In such illustrations, the focus is not only on the object of the instruction – the product –but also on the acting person – either the whole person or only the hands. Instructional illustrations without an actor are passive constructions. Representing the acting persons creates an active visual instruction. In this way, specific activities are revealed quickly and become transportable beyond the possibly complex descriptions in the text.

Two bases define the term “technical illustration” in technical communication: the standardized basis and one based on conventions. The standardized basis is outlined in the design guidelines for safety signs, ISO 3864-3, and, almost in sync except for nuances, ANSI Z535.3. These standards contain distinct specifications for the ...