Re: The coming predominance of user experience and technicalcommunications

Subject: Re: The coming predominance of user experience and technicalcommunications
From: John Garison <john -at- garisons -dot- com>
To: Lauren <lt34 -at- csus -dot- edu>
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 15:58:31 -0400

I too have had a run in with the auto scan devices at my local Home
Depot. My wife - a software development manager - and I both failed
miserably at using the thing. But once someone told us what we had done
wrong - you have to follow the instructions precisely - we got better at
it. I still hate it, though.

But as for such things taking away our gainful employment, I wouldn't
worry. Yes, they are 'self-documenting' but that's not a problem. For
one, someone has to write the instructions that the machine says, so
there's a job or three right there. Second, a lot of stuff is already
so simple that we don't document it any more. Remember when GUIs first
appeared? We wrote instructions to teach people how to click and drag
and drop. And even further back in the 30's or thereabouts (not even
Dick Margulis is old enough to remember that) when they did away with
telephone operators and added dials to telephones, they had to run radio
commercials to tell people what a dial tone was and what it sounded like.

The point is that the bar is always rising. Some things that required
documentation a few years ago no longer do. Partially it may be because
things are so ubiquitous, or it may be that they just got so easy to do
that they are self-evident. Whatever the reason, some things really
don't have to be documented any more. It will continue to happen.

But what also happens is that the things that you really want to do and
that a machine can do for you become more complex, and those really do
require documentation. Sure, UI design is improving, and many things are
a lot easier to describe and explain than before. But to understand what
is happening behind the scenes requires explanation. To perform a series
of steps to accomplish a task requires documentation/instruction.

Whether it's a manual, online help, or embedded affordances, there's
always going to be a need for our skill set.

Well, there is until we get into the way, way distant future when the
machines can read our minds and do what we wish they would. I'm not
holding my breath. But then you' might end up with a situation like
Arthur C. Clarke's "Against the Fall of Night" where an advanced
civilization has forgotten how the things they inherited from their
forebears worked, so they can't fix them or really understand how they
do what they do. Wouldn't it be nice to have some documentation THEN!
But then, Clarke's Third Law "Any sufficiently advanced technology is
indistinguishable from magic" and Niven's corollary "Any sufficiently
advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology" might both apply.

My 2¢,

John Garison
Candidate for STC Region 1 Director

Lauren said the following on 7/24/2007 3:30 PM:
> And now for the technical writing conundrum. If applications, like checkout
> registers, are being designed to be so "user-friendly" that they don't need
> documentation and that the interface will walk users through without effort,
> then is it possible that software applications that are typically supported
> with documentation will, in many cases, make documentation obsolete? Will
> technical writers become obsolete for certain types of "user-friendly"
> documentation? What will happen to the market if this becomes the case?

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RE: The coming predominance of user experience and technicalcommunications: From: Lauren

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