Can a technical writer be a Web designer?

Subject: Can a technical writer be a Web designer?
From: Geoff Hart <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 09:11:56 -0500

William I. Marin wonders: <<I have a Technical Writing background. I would
like to do work as a Web Designer. I've been told that a person educated as
technical writer can be employed as a Web Designer. I've been searching for
a Web Design position in New York but have not been lucky enough to land
anything. What skills might a technical writer possess that would enable
them to be considered for a web position? What skills might a technical
writer need to acquire before being considered for a web position?>>

Web design is about two things: providing easy access to clearly
communicated information, and making the site itself graphically
interesting; unfortunately, the two goals are often (inadvertently) at war.
If you're a skilled techwhirler, then you've got the first part of the
equation covered, provided you can either learn to program (forms, Java,
Javascript, Perl, DHTML, XML, whatever) or work with someone who can
program; even the programming isn't necessary for simple sites, but it can
save you and the audience a lot of grief for larger, more complex sites. The
graphic component can be far more of a challenge; for example, I can
critique the usability and consistency of designs, but I'm moderately
design-impaired myself when it comes to coming up with the graphics in the
first place. (So I work with a graphic artist and together we come up with
something both esthetic and usable.)

If you're having trouble finding work, it may be because the prevailing
emphasis on Web design has swung heavily towards flash and glitter and far
away from usability. That being the case, people who hire Web designers tend
to look for graphic artists or programmers, and ignore writers. If so, one
good approach would be to develop a Web portfolio that includes samples
ranging from "dull and formal" to "glitzy and avant garde", and refer people
to the portfolio _before_ you introduce your credentials. Once they've seen
a sample that they like (i.e., been convinced you can do the sort of work
they want), then they won't worry so much about your background. But if you
introduce yourself as a writer before you catch their eye with design work,
then you probably won't be considered for the jobs.

--Geoff Hart, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"The paperless office will arrive when the paperless toilet
arrives."--Matthew Stevens

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