What You Can Learn From These 4 Superb Knowledge Bases

By John Hughes

Starting your knowledge base from scratch can be a daunting prospect. As with any project, it’s much easier getting past the blank page stage when you have a few existing examples to turn to for a bit of creative inspiration. Fortunately, there is no shortage of excellent existing implementations out there on the web to learn from.

In this piece, we’ve picked out four of our favorite knowledge bases from across the wider web for you to admire. In addition to being superb examples of general best practice, each one offers specific lessons you should be looking to apply across your own efforts.

Let’s get going!

1. Basecamp and the Benefits of Making Things Personal

The team behind Basecamp have been banging the drum about the importance of deep thinking in user-facing design for over a decade now, and their commitment to the cause is evident throughout their online support pages. Browse the site and you’ll also see the company’s passion for clear communication showcased on every page – there are excellent examples of crisp writing and judicious use of screenshots throughout.

The specific point we want to highlight here is instantly apparent, however. Hit up the help homepage and you’re immediately presented with a rather charming illustration of the entire support team:

The friendly Basecamp support team.
The friendly Basecamp support team.

It’s a smart move. Straightaway you’re confident that there’s a team of friendly, helpful people just waiting to help you solve any problems you might have. It’s a quick way of reassuring users that personal assistance is available, and a lesson many sites could learn from to get users on board from the get go.

2. Covering All the Bases With Asana

Asana sells itself strongly on simplicity and ease of use, and those properties are admirably showcased in the company’s excellent knowledge base. There’s a lot to admire here, with the navigation being a particular plus point.

Asana's navigation structure gets you exactly where you want to be going.
Asana’s navigation structure gets you exactly where you want to be going.

Far too many knowledge bases rely overly on search as a magic bullet, and neglect to put in the extra effort to actually structure their content with the user in mind. That’s definitely not the case here.

A quick glance at the main menu upon arrival is enough to instantly hone in on your primary purpose, and the submenu drop-downs provide just the right level of detail to jump straight to the area you’re looking for. Is your knowledge base this easy to browse?

3. Conquering Complexity With DigitalOcean

Setting up your own server is an inherently complex task, but the folks at DigitalOcean have captured customers quickly by making it about as simple as it could ever be. It’s an approach that’s also displayed on their support pages.

DigitalOcean's knowledge base is a treasure trove of high-level tech writing.
DigitalOcean’s knowledge base is a treasure trove of high-level tech writing.

The real star here is the writing. Breaking down complex topics in a way that’s appropriate for audiences of wildly differing levels of technical expertise is a high bar, but one they clear with ease. The easily searchable collection of over 1,300 tutorials at the heart of their knowledge base is a joy to behold when you’re looking for specific solutions.

4. Simple Sequential Steps With Slack

Slack has won a place in the hearts of many teams over recent years, with the combination of a disarmingly simple interface and powerful integration options under the hood.

The knowledge base section of their site lives up to the standards set by the app, and shows the same level of attention to design detail. Small touches like the use of icons to bring attention to trending articles make navigating the contents a pleasure.

An example of Slack's simple but effective use of step-by-step guides.
An example of Slack’s simple but effective use of step-by-step guides.

Browsing the clearly written and helpful set of articles, one of the most useful features on display is also one of the simplest: numbered step-by-step guides. Once you see them deployed this thoroughly throughout a knowledge base, you’ll wonder why more sites don’t take the same approach.

Conclusion

All of the sites we’ve covered require careful study when you’re putting together your next knowledge base or help section. They’re packed full of content and small touches demonstrating company cultures where the user is the star of the show.

Let’s briefly recap the main lessons to be learned from each one:

  1. Basecamp shows the value of introducing a personal touch to your knowledge base content.
  2. Asana’s structuring of content, and the care they’ve taken with making their navigation simple but comprehensive, shows search is just part of the puzzle.
  3. DigitalOcean’s breakdown of complexity shows the value of paying for top-notch technical writing, and going deep with content.
  4. The Slack knowledge base shows that simple always wins. Small touches like using numbered steps can make all the difference.

Have you got a favorite knowledge base you’ve found particularly useful or inspiring? Get in touch via the comments section below and let us know!

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