Re: Can a technical writer be a Web designer?

Subject: Re: Can a technical writer be a Web designer?
From: "Tim Altom" <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com>
To: "TechDoc List" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 10:02:42 -0500

Many jobs for the Web are similar to tech writing positions: wide open,
vigorous, but often filled by people not prepared to do the job.

Being a "designer" is often just a matter of sketching some pretty
appearances, then tossing the drawings to a geek in the next cubicle to make
them work. Other designers are truly Web-savvy and know how to code to make
their designs come to life. God only knows what skills are possessed by an
individual with "Web Designer" at the top of the vitae. And like tech
writing, few companies know what to ask for.

Much depends on how ambitious you want to be. You can get by at many little
companies with very basic skills: HTML 3.X/4; simple JavaScripting. You can
pick these up at home. But you learn quickly that to do interactive sites
you need to be a geek or know a geek, because you'll need CGI, dbase
connectivity, and other plumbing. These skills are hard to learn at home,
unless you want to set up your very own Web server on a Linux box and
practice. It's possible; if you can do that, you're well on your way to
full-fledged geekdom and an undisputed Web designership.

It's obviously a good thing to know how to write, how to help users
navigate, and how to structure information. And there's too little of that
skill evident on the Web, but that's always been the case in any medium. But
if those are your ONLY skills, you should stick to tech writing and leave
the high-tech delivery systems to those who love them. Good Web design is
like good online help design, only more so, in that both are heavily
hypertext and require a good knowledge of what lies beyond the tool's GUI,
as well as a gut-level understanding of what hypertext and cyberspace imply
in a design.

To get a better perspective, you should probably visit some designers near
you. Here's where a network comes in really handy. Find somebody who's
already doing the job and visit. Find others through that person. Be
inquisitive. Standards are different from company to company, and from
region to region. See what successful designers are doing, and what they
know. Then you'll know what you need on your resume.

Tim Altom
Simply Written, Inc.
Featuring the Clustar System(TM) and single source
"Better communication is a service to mankind."
Check our Web site for the upcoming Clustar class info

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