What information should be on our specification sheets? This issue has come up repeatedly through the years at Apogee. In considering this it is helpful to keep in mind the purpose of a specification sheet. Foremost is that they are a means of communication to potential users what the product is, what it does and how it performs. Three concerns are preeminent in developing an effective specification, 1) what information should be included, 2) who is the intended audience and 3) how should the information be structured.
What information should be included? Many companies are concerned that if they are giving away too much information it could allow a competitor to reverse engineer their product. If the geometry of the product plays a role in performance, how much information should be included to communicate the dimensions of the product for a customer without releasing critical information? Additionally, what are the key parameters that are critical to potential users? We have addressed this by focusing on a detailed breakdown of how our products perform while we strive to produce the best quality products possible. While some of our products have been knocked-off, a quick examination demonstrates the difference in quality between the original and the imitation.
Who is the audience? For scientific instruments, your audience frequently ranges from Ph.D. level scientists to elementary teachers looking for tools to get students excited about science. How do you communicate the detailed information a researcher seeks without losing the interest of a more casual customer? Our specification sheets have evolved to include a photograph of the product with several brief paragraphs that describe what the product is and how it is used. This is then followed by a table, which contains detailed information on the product’s performance. Following the table is generally an illustration that shows the dimensions. This format allows someone unfamiliar with the product to first learn about the sensor. Those more concerned with detail performance can easily find that information in the table.
How should the information be presented? In 2006 Apogee advertised for a Calibration Technician/Technical Writer. We decided upon a recent psychology graduate that was looking to work while his wife finished her degree before he pursued a graduate degree in law. Ray was with Apogee for a little over a year but in that time had far reaching impacts on how Apogee communicated complex scientific ideas. Unknown to us at the time of hiring, Ray had an eye for solid design layout and composition, accompanied with detailed familiarity using Adobe Illustrator, as well as a strong work ethic. When not occupied with calibrating sensors, Ray would look over our documentation and then propose ways to communicate complex ideas with an illustration. These became integrated into specification sheets, owner’s manuals and general product information on our website and are still in use today.
Specification sheets are one more tool in effective communication between manufacturers and customers. I am excited about the direction of future communication options as advances in technology facilitate two-way communication between parties. Apogee has always sought feedback from customers and as Apogee expands marketing efforts to include social media avenues such as this blog, Facebook, and online surveys, it is our hope that our customers feel their voice is heard. Making better measurements is dependent on common understanding of what researchers are trying to measure and how Apogee can help address those needs. Effective communication, whatever the medium, can only help that process.