Re: Doc Design and Conventions

Subject: Re: Doc Design and Conventions
From: Keith Hood <klhra -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com, Robert Lauriston <robert -at- lauriston -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 1 Nov 2009 08:23:56 -0800 (PST)

I think the evolution of tech writers from having no influence on UI design to being part of the process is accidental. For a long time, nobody else was paying real attention to it.

My highly subjective take on the history of tech writers' involvement in UI design: In their downsizing over the years, companies got rid of all their usability engineers. The regular developers took over UI design but they usually weren't trained to pay attention to usability concerns, and they were pressured to get the product out the door as soon as possible.

Tech writers were the users' advocates by accident, because tech writers had to actually face the UIs on a regular basis. The developers didn't *use* the UIs they made, they just slapped them together and got back to the "real" work of trying to make sure the backend functions could communicate with the database. Tech writers had to handle the UI extensively enough so they could document what it really did, so they were they only ones inside the companies who felt the pain of bad UI design.

I used to tell the designers and marketers and QA people where I worked that I was a one-man focus group. I was the one person on the team who was closest to the user in the way I looked at and used the software. More than once I wound up in an I-told-you-so position, because the company got complaints from users about UI issues - issues that I had raised when I was testing the UI while writing the online help. (Not that I ever actually said it; even I was smart enough to not be that blunt about it.) But over the years, companies had enough of those kinds of experiences that they began to realize they could have avoided CRM problems, and cut back on the costs of late-cycle redesigns, if they had paid more attention to UI design.

I think programmers and managers have begun to realize that by putting value on what the tech writer says about the UI, they're getting a more cost-effective organization. They're sort of getting usability designers back into the loop on the cheap. Since the tech writer can provide feedback on UI usability, in effect he's doing two jobs on one salary.

This is possibly the only situation where I won't complain about a two-for-one deal, because I think providing feedback on UI design is a natural role for the tech writer. I was always doing it anyway even if it wasn't specifically part of my job description, and I enjoy it. My hope is that my next job with software they'll allow the tech writers to be involved with UI design from the start. That would be enjoyable and being more closely involved with product creation makes the tech writer be seen as more value-added, which increases his retention index.


> On Fri, Oct 30, 2009 at 8:15 PM, Janoff, Steve
> <Steve -dot- Janoff2 -at- teradata -dot- com>
> wrote:
> > Hey Chris,
> >
> > Your post inspires me to want to delve into the
> origins and history of
> > tech writing.
> >
> > It seems odd that tech writing has evolved from
> probably a simple
> > beginning of written communication to the point where
> the writer is now
> > intimately involved with user experience design.
>  That's not a bad
> > thing, it's just curious.
> >
> > What qualifies a writer to perform this role?  Is
> he/she the advocate of
> > the ordinary person?  Is the writer somehow more
> "human" than the
> > developer, and therefore able to talk to the user in
> that person's
> > cognitive language?
> >
> > I remember the days when you had to fight to get a
> word change into the
> > UI -- writers were not allowed to contribute in any
> way to the
> > interface, even from a language standpoint.
> >
> > Now our ideas are welcomed, even solicited, regarding
> functionality,
> > user experience, usability, interaction design,
> navigation design,
> > screen layout, information architecture, and the rest
> of it.
> >
> > Innovators aren't always good writers, and writers
> aren't always good
> > innovators.  If our role largely makes procedures
> obsolete, then what
> > *is* our role?
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>
> Are you looking for one documentation tool that does it
> all?  Author,
> build, test, and publish your Help files with just one
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> Try the latest Doc-To-Help 2009 v3 risk-free for 30-days
> at:
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>
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> individual
> authors and teams. Professional power, intuitive interface.
> Write
> once, publish to 8 formats. Multi-user authoring and
> version control! http://www.helpandmanual.com/
>
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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Are you looking for one documentation tool that does it all?&#160; Author,
build, test, and publish your Help files with just one easy-to-use tool.
Try the latest Doc-To-Help 2009 v3 risk-free for 30-days at:
http://www.doctohelp.com/

Help & Manual 5: The complete help authoring tool for individual
authors and teams. Professional power, intuitive interface. Write
once, publish to 8 formats. Multi-user authoring and version control! http://www.helpandmanual.com/

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