RE: Technical writing, usability, GUI design, and how they fit together -your opinion is needed

Subject: RE: Technical writing, usability, GUI design, and how they fit together -your opinion is needed
From: "Robart, Kay" <Kay -dot- Robart -at- tea -dot- state -dot- tx -dot- us>
To: "Robert Fekete" <fekete77 -dot- robert -at- gmail -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2012 11:02:20 -0500

I have only worked at one place that had a user interface designer. Most
of the time the developers design the interface, sometimes with internal
customer input. Usually at my current workplace the business analysts do
the mockups. However, in several places I have worked the technical
writers have had a lot of input into the design of the interface.

At my current position, our designs for one application are for online
forms that are fairly standard, but although I do not design the forms,
I have complete review authority and the authority to reword any of the
form labels or tool tips. I gained this authority by showing the product
manager examples of egregious spelling and grammar mistakes.

In a previous job, I filed defect reports on problems in the interface,
and I had a coworker who gained so much credibility with his product
group that they came and asked him to help with the design. Our
authority to do this was based upon our product group's experience that
we knew what we were talking about, that is, we had to earn it.

One of the ways I got the developers to listen to me was by asking
questions rather than telling them what to do. For example, my first
instance of this at the previous employment I referred to was when I was
questioning a novice technical writer about the order of her steps in a
procedure I was reviewing. She explained to me that with two controls,
one above the other, you had to set the one on the bottom, which then
controlled what you could select on the one above. (Yes, really! You
would like to think that no one would make a mistake like that today,
but I have seen doozies.) I took her straight to the developer and asked
him to open up the dialog box that contained those settings. Then I
said, "Do I really have to select this setting before I can set this
one?" and he said, "Yes, you do. Oh! I guess I should switch them
around!" After awhile they started coming to me and asking me for
advice.

Perhaps if you are criticizing the interface in general, it might work
better to go to specific developers with suggestions or questions. The
other way to go would be to locate a champion higher up in the
organization and show him or her specific examples of your concerns. If
the overall design looks just awful, you might try finding examples of
existing software interfaces that would provide a better layout. You
could probably do that by scanning the product pages for some software
projects. If they have a model they can use for a good design, they
might do a better job. For example, in one product group, we decided to
use Microsoft Outlook as our model for what our product would look like.

Kay R.

-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+kay -dot- robart=tea -dot- state -dot- tx -dot- us -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
[mailto:techwr-l-bounces+kay -dot- robart=tea -dot- state -dot- tx -dot- us -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com]
On Behalf Of Robert Fekete
Sent: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 10:20 AM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Technical writing, usability, GUI design, and how they fit
together -your opinion is needed

Dear Wise Ones,

At the company I work at - mostly a techwriter - I ran into a
difficult situation, and would greatly appreciate your collective
input and experience on it.

Currently, GUI design is mostly left to our developers, who usually
come up with less than usable interfaces, probably because they are
programmers and think like programmers, ignoring the users' point of
view. My fellow techwriter and me keep complaining about the sloppy
interface designs and usability, but can't really get our message
across: the interface should be designed by someone thinking as a
user, and working closely with the techwriters to make the GUI labels
understandable. (Correcting interface texts is important because the
English skills of our developers leave room for improvement (mine as
well, but that's a different problem ).)

So, what is your experience?

As technical writers, what is your relationship to product usability
and GUI/interface design?
Which group/department is involved in UI design/usability at your
company?
Who has the final word about the design (including GUI texts)?
Is there a dedicated UI designer / usability expert for each product?
How much control (language, and so on) do you (or someone else) have
over the plans / mockups?
At which point of the design do you review the interface, if ever?

We plan to use your answers to show "how other companies are doing it".

Thank you very for your help in advance.

Kind Regards,

Robert


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