User-centered design?

Subject: User-centered design?
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Mon, 8 Feb 1999 13:28:51 -0700

Kristin Zibell wondered <<How does a tech writer implement
user-centered design techniques into their information development
process?>>

Piece of cake: all you do is forget about documenting "what there is"
information and replace that with "what can I do with what there is?"
information. <g> That's a bit facetious, but it captures the essence:
user-centered design means focusing on the needs of the user, not the
needs of the techwhirler or the developer. In user-centered paradise,
you actually design the interface first, freeze it solid (after
testing it), then code the underlying details that make the interface
work. For the industry as a whole, we're still in user-centered
purgatory, though there are a few saints out there bravely trying to
convert the sinners.

<<What are some chanllenges that tech writers face when doing so?>>

The biggest obstacle is usually a lack of support from your employer,
but it sounds like your colleagues are at least having fun playing
with the jargon, so there's hope.

For me, the biggest challenge has always been forgetting that along
the way to documenting something, I've become something of an expert
on the subject. As soon as you're an expert, you've probably lost
touch with half of your audience, the exception being those rare
cases when you're truly writing for an audience composed solely of
experts. The solution is to somehow forget much of what you know, or
at least enough to approach the documentation effort with some of the
naivete of the new or inexpert user. You can learn this kind of
empathy with some practice.
--Geoff Hart @8^{)} Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Patience comes to those who wait."--Anon.

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