Re: Our Real Nemesis

Subject: Re: Our Real Nemesis
From: "Cook, Cynthia (NCI)" <cookc -at- DCBDC31 -dot- NCI -dot- NIH -dot- GOV>
Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 09:17:00 -0400

>Perhaps showing them excellent functional design that also looks pretty is
>a good place to start. I can recommend The Information Architects as an
>excellent book examining this issue.

One model that is useful for both graphic designers and techwriters is
"Information Design". I think the definition of that term is still evolving, but
the bottom line is crafting text and graphics that present complex information
to users in a concise, clear and attractive manner. Basically, it's putting a
new label on what the best tech writers have been striving for all along. Edward
Tufte and Richard Saul Wurman are the main gurus in the field. More information
on this concept (and on these and other authors) can be found at:

Just an aside, for those of you who remember the long discussion "not wanted:
technical writers" a few months ago about a Washington Post article on the small
firm Weber and Associates. There was some argument on this list about whether
Weber really could make productive useful techwriters out of their
non-conventional, previously-untrained staff. The answer is yes, mostly because
Weber stressed the principles of good information design as a guide to new
writers and editors. I was one of the GenXers in their stables a couple of years
ago, though I left after four months. It was not an easy place to work - long
hours, a steep learning curve, and no room for mistakes or time for training. At
first I thought of it as a hiccup in an otherwise productive career, but I'm
coming to realize that it was probably the most important job experience I've
had. Having kept in contact with other Weber expatriates, all of us came away
with valuable skills as techwriters, and all of us have moved along much faster
in our careers than I believe we would have without having encountered info
design. I've been called in on some truly interesting and exciting projects
because of "that thing I do" - "that thing" would be info design. Not that my
learning stopped there -- the great thing about the technical industry is that
there's always plenty more to learn -- but info design principles strengthen
everything I do, from database development to GUI design, to systems analysis
and documentation.

"If you feel compelled to use the term 'thinking outside the box' -- you're in
the box."
Cynthia Cook-Robertson
Internet Developer
National Cancer Institute
Division of Clinical Sciences
CookC -at- nih -dot- gov
(301) 402-2559

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