A Giant Digital Filing Cabinet

Information design and content management are two terms that I knew existed, but they never would have crossed my mind.  Technical communicators write and create their documents, but must also design the way they distribute information and manage what they write.  Most people only consider the writing part of a technical communicator’s job, but these are tasks in which technical communicators have always engaged.  Before the Web grew in popularity, technical communicators kept track and managed their writing in hard copy formats.  However, with the enormous increase of documents being created and distributed online, somebody must be responsible for maintaining it: “Search and retrievability – or findability – as well as navigability become increasingly important as the information age produces more documents than ever before” (Salvo & Rosinski, p. 103).  A document is useless if the user cannot navigate it or cannot properly access it.  I imagine a digital filing cabinet and a technical communicator working diligently to keep it organized.  I have created a visual to aid with my giant digital filing cabinet analogy.


I took a stab at defining the two terms:

  • Information design – creating or establishing a text using a set of principles to improve the readability of a document
  • Content management – maintaining the usability and searchability of a document so that it can be accessed by users

So, in terms of information design, technical communicators “[design] information in written documents so that those who put ideas to work can access content when needed” (Salvo & Rosinski, p. 105).  With the increase of electronic documents, it is important that technical communicators consider the format of their document.  If they want their users to be able to open up an electronic file and type their information directly into the file, they must design it in such a way.  Design in a key element in helping readers understand the document.  Also, technical communicators are “charged not merely with the activity of writing, but also with […] looking after the information assets of the organization” (p. 128).  Increasingly, technical communicators are responsible for keeping the information they write organized so users can locate it.  If a graphic designer creates a company logo, it will fall on the technical communicator to keep a digital copy of the company’s logo managed so that the marketing department, and any other departments, can locate it for their work.

Technical communicators use various systems for designing information and for maintaining documents.  InfoDesign is a blog that provides technical communicators with current information and communication strategies.  Technical communicators can use the tags to search for posts about a relevant topic.  Companies have many options in terms of managing their content.  CMS Matrix allows users to sort through a list of 1,200 content management systems and compare selected systems.  Top Ten Reviews contained numerical data comparing the most popular content management systems.

So does this giant digital filing cabinet create more work for a technical communicator?  I don’t think so, unless the technical communicator is not properly designing and managing his content.  I think properly designing information and managing it correctly can actually help a technical communicator be more productive in the long run.

Posted on October 27, 2013, in Workplace and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. evelynmartens13


    Thanks for the references. You have helped me expand my vocabulary today because I went to the Info Design blog and read “Four Myths About UX and How to Bust Them,” by Brian Pagan. I didn’t know what UX was! (user experience design). I was surprised at the urgent tenor: based on 200 years of science, 30 years of industry, applied research, not just “common sense.” He talks about what they do is distinct from other kinds of stakeholders and why that is important. Very interesting!

    I like your digital file cabinet analogy!

  2. I also like your digital file cabinet analogy! I think you’re right that content management doesn’t necessarily make the technical communicator’s job harder, but it does make other people’s (marketers, managers, users) jobs a whole lot easier. Our readings are telling us that this is increasingly part of the value we offer, and this concept is starting to make more and more sense to me.

    I think information design and content management are ways of thinking about technical communication which I and other technical communicators will need to shift to in the future.

  3. I agree with you where you say if a technical communicator is managing their content that content management isn’t that big of a deal. I think a lot of the concepts that are explored with info design and content management come “easy” to people that are “good” at technical communication.

  4. Wonderful work here creating your own images and definitions to make meaning of these terms! I know you’re not a technical communicator by trade, but I think you could compare your final points about content management, design, and productivity to what teachers need to do when creating lesson plans and activities that successfully get students to learn and think. Any examples you might have on that front?

  5. You make a great point in saying that technical communicators work to keep things organized, even just through the way they construct a document or a website. I liked your analogy, it really does a good job of showing the relationship between information design and content management.

  6. I was fortunate enough to end up on a writing team where most of the content management processes and solutions were already figured out. Since I joined them, we have had to look into alternatives to avoid storage space issues and to reduce server size and cost. I’ve also been fortunate enough to not have to worry about the content management portion of the process. The team I’m on has roles divided up for efficiency. I’ve written and edited, but I have never been part of the content storage and management areas. I guess I’ve taken it for granted, because I rarely give a thought to the storage and retrievability of the documentation we maintain for the business. All areas are definitely important when providing information to the customer or business partners.

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