Our Real Nemesis

Subject: Our Real Nemesis
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 17 May 1998 13:01:30 -0500

I've seen lots of discussion on this list about SMEs and managers and how
they often seem to be our natural enemies. And I've even participated in a
few such discussions.

But lately we've encountered another, seemingly more formidable foe: the
graphic designer. When a client approaches us, it's not unknown for them to
have already engaged a graphic designer to do brochures, annual reports, and
whatnot. This same designer is often brought into the loop for manuals and
other "functional" documentation, as well, and therein lies the problem. The
graphical designers we've been meeting lately aren't well-versed in human
functionality, although they're a better breed nowadays for balance and pure

Our problems begin, however, when appearance contradicts function. To be
honest, our firm isn't into graphic design and doesn't care to be. Our
emphasis is on functionality; we farm out all our "artistic" things.

This collision between beauty and function isn't new, but it seems to me
that it is gaining strength. The Web has encouraged companies to hire
graphics people, and it seems to have encouraged graphic designers to be
more assertive in manual design. So we now have icons that are too big to be
conveniently associated with text, and rules lines between the icons and the
text, simply because it's cute. And our comments are often unwelcome because
the graphic designer is doing things that are obviously pretty, while our
efforts are less visible.

Our reactions to this vary from client to client. Sometimes we win,
sometimes we don't. Usually it's a compromise, which means nobody's really
happy. But does this seem like trend to anyone else? As I say, it's been an
accident scene many, many times, but am I alone in thinking that it's
getting worse, rather than better? Are graphics designers just not being
taught that there's more to human factors than color combinations?

Tim Altom
Simply Written, Inc.
Creators of the Clustar Method for task-based documentation

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