Re: waking up to the world of Technical Writing

Subject: Re: waking up to the world of Technical Writing
From: Chuck Martin <cm -at- writeforyou -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 03 Jun 2004 11:11:56 -0700

Lippincott Richard J Contr ESC/NI wrote:

Mark Baker said:

On the contrary, it is important to understand that the UI is peripheral to
the user experience. You don't drive down the highway with your eyes glued
to the instrument panel -- you watch the road.

One of the problems with our profession is that there are so many different things to document that any one analogy breaks down very quickly. Mark's right, when you're driving down the road you don't focus on the instrument panel. On the other hand, pilots flying aircraft on IFR through clouds at night -do- keep their eyes on the instruments and don't dare take their eyes off them.

BVut that's called knowing your users--and designing to meet their goals. The average person driving down the road, for example, is interfacing with the car in so many ways: the hands on the steering wheel (most of the time), one foot on the gas pedal, eyes flicking to mirrors, gauges, etc. The environmental system and sound systems are best designed so that the driver can communicate with them often without taking eyes from the road.

In driving, the interface is in so many ways with the car. When that design is obtrusive, when it fails to inherently communicate its use, requiring attention to be srawn away form the raod, then the design is bad. More specifically, the communication is bad.

I read one review of my new car (a Scion xA, which I like a lot, despite some annoying design issues), that complained about the design of the radio controls. It uses two separate buttons to change the volume, one for up, one for down. The reviewed said--correctly I think--that a knob is much easier to (a) find and (b) use while driving. The two-button scheme probably was thouught to look cool and sexy, but it's problematic in actual use. A competent technical communicator, able to understand a driver's goals, may have been able to recognize this issue in the early design process. (Whether they would have had the power to affect change is another matter entirely.)

Chuck Martin
User Assistance & Experience Engineer
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
The day may come when the courage of Men fail, when we forsake our
friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day!
This day, we fight!"
- Aragorn

"All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
- Gandalf


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