PDF's Jazzing them up?

Subject: PDF's Jazzing them up?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Eadaoin O'Donnell'" <ead_ciara -at- hotmail -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 5 Oct 2000 09:10:43 -0400

Eadaoin O'Donnell's company <<...is making a manual available for
downloading from a website. It will be downloadable in PDF format. As it
stands the PDF looks exactly like our printed manuals. I think that it would
be good if it looked a little bit funkier.>>

Why should it look "funkier"? (That is, what benefit does "funk" have for
the reader?) If you've designed something that works well in print, and the
PDF is explicitly designed to be printed, then don't change something that
works well. Technical Communication isn't about flash: it's about meeting
the needs of users. So if the printed version doesn't have glaring defects
that need "funk" to fix them, don't bother.

However, let's assume that the manual is intended for reading online. (If it
looks "exactly like our printed manuals", then that means you haven't
redesigned it for use on the screen, so I doubt that this is your intent.)
In that case, one very helpful thing you can do that you might be unable to
do in print (because of the cost) would be to use color. Use color to make
headings more recognizable, to make screenshots look more like the real
screens, to highlight notes and cautions, and so on: in short, to make life
easier for the user and make the manual more visually interesting, without
creating a garish sea of color. Next, take advantage of Acrobat's hypertext
features by making all the "see Chapter X" and similar cross-references into
hyperlinks, thereby adding value to the PDF version. That's about as jazzy
as you need to get.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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