Re: Framemaker, Word and Robohelp

Subject: Re: Framemaker, Word and Robohelp
From: "Chuck Martin" <twriter -at- sonic -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2001 11:03:33 -0800

<christopher -dot- borresen -at- tellabs -dot- com> wrote in message news:86765 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> "Eichelberger, Mark C. -AFTECH" <EichelbergerM -at- AFTECH -dot- com> wrote in
> message
> news:86716 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> > We are currently using Word 2000 to create source documents which are
> then
> > converted to Adobe PDF format for distribution to clients via CD-ROM.
> Framemaker and Adobe Distiller do a great job of creating PDF files.
> Framemaker takes very little time to learn, especially with previous
> word processing experience. I recommend taking a beginner/intermediate
> course to cover the basics.
It distresses me to see, time and time again, that "taking a course" is seen
as a solution to learning about a software package. While in some cases it
may be needed, training more often is about explaining how to use what
should have been obviouis, if the software had been designed with its usres
in mind.

Using FrameMaker as an example, it is essentially one of many word
processors. Many of the tasks that users would want to do in FrameMaker,
many of the goals that users would want to reach, are no different than the
ones that would be there if they were using a different package. And if
users are reasonably familiar with other packages (as I would hope technical
writers with any amount of experience would be), then the product design
should be such that it lends itself to communicating its important and
useful functionality. In addition, the documentation, both the online Help
and the printed materials, should be easiliy accessible and should have
clear informationabout how users can reach their golas when they run into

I would suggest that FrameMaker, even in its 6th version now, does none of
that well.

I still point people to what I think is a successful model of this: the
Microsoft Money applicaiton of the past couple of years. Even though I am
both a frequent MS basher (for both its product designs and its tactics) and
a frequent MS user (of many of its products), Money has 2 things that makes
it easy for people to start using right away: its design that walks people
through tasks to reach common goals, and its online Help, which by default
is always there, as a sliver of the window along the right side, and is
always changing depending on where in the program a user is and what in the
program the user is doing. While not perfect, this technology, offiring cues
to users and offering to provide the right extra information at the right
time, is incredibly useful. I've even seen something similar demonstrated
for a web-based application at a conference more than a year ago.

The knowledge of how to design for users is there. The technology to provide
users with useful guideance is there. Both of these are much, much better
solutions than "taking a class." But they also require an investment and a
commitment, both of which many companies simply aren't willing to make. And
for that, users continue to suffer.

"[Programmers] cannot successfully be asked to design for users
because...inevitably, they will make judgments based on the
difficulty of coding and not on the user's real needs."
- Alan Cooper
"About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design"

Chuck Martin
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net

Develop HTML-Based Help with Macromedia Dreamweaver 4 ($100 STC Discount)
**WEST COAST LOCATIONS** San Jose (Mar 1-2), San Francisco (Apr 16-17) or 800-646-9989.

Sponsored by DigiPub Solutions Corp, producers of PDF 2001
Conference East, June 4-5, Baltimore/Washington D.C. area. or toll-free 877/278-2131.

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