Re: Involving Users in Doc. Design?

Subject: Re: Involving Users in Doc. Design?
From: Chris Despopoulos <cud -at- arrakis -dot- es>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 16 Dec 1999 09:47:18 +0100

Philomena Hoopes said:

We're experimenting with this approach in our new
document design process;
given the nature of our product and our
documentation, it seems to be an
ideal match. I'd like to hear whether other
writers have tried this, and if
so, what were the results?

Way back when, for FrameMaker 4.0, we totally redesigned the
docs. One thing we did was to get rid of the "Reference"
manual, and try to cover that aspect in the help system. As
a result, the help system turned out to be more like a
diccionary than an encyclopedia (the Users' Guide was that),
with categories, and a conceptual overview sort of glueing
each category together.

The redesign was inspired by customer feedback. Then we
held user meetings, and presented the proposed design. The
users who came to the meetings (a self-selecting sample?)
all gave us the nod of approval... Some expressed concerns
over turning the "Reference" into an online piece. Maybe we
brow-beat those folks into submission, or maybe by the end
of the meeting they felt comfortable. One can never tell,
can one? But the bottom line is, people generally approved.

Then we entered the docs in a contest. The printed matter
fared rather well, I must say. The Help system was met with
horror at worst, absolute disgust at best. Why? Because it
wasn't task oriented. Such is life.

Moral of the story? You can please some of the people some
of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.
Still, I think we did our customers a service by redesigning
the docs. And it was not an off-the-cuff process. We used
user surveys, focus groups, had long theoretical
discussions, etc. It was fun, too. (Then another company
bought us, and everything went by the board, so to speak...
We had to meet the larger requirements of corporate identity
and process. Those are always compromises of different
sorts, and always just as real as the customer.)

Oh, and to answer Darren Barefoot's concern, why not pay the
customer for his feedback? If the docs are going to cost
10,000.00, what's another 2,000.00? If you can win over 2
to 4 more customers as a result, you made your money back,
didn't you?

My experience with major doc design... cud

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