You don’t know what you don’t know . . .
Posted by Jennifer Smoot
How embarrassing. I knew when I first started designing website that I really, no I mean really, did not know what I was doing but I thought my boss would teach me, which he did. Sort of. For the most part I taught myself. And then I am reading “Information Design From Authoring Text to Architecting Virtual Space” and realize just how much the two of us really had absolutely no clue how to do what we were doing, we just did it and customers seemed to be happy. To be fair, my (old) boss started this business on his own five years before I came on with little to no training himself and was (and still is) doing quite well. I think back on some of the sites I designed from scratch (none of which are still up and running due to businesses going out of business) and realize that there was always something missing. I knew it back then but could not put my finger on it. I was not a graphic designer (nor would I ever be one) so I always blamed it on the images just not being quite right and therefore the effect of the site not being what I had hoped it would be. I did at least always pride myself on my sites being easy to navigate with the appropriate information in the perfect locations. Now I realize that the reason the sites were not all they could be had so much more to do with the actual text and placement of information than I ever would have thought possible.
“Gurak and Warnick argue that to engage in digital literacy, one must have not only an ability to use new media technologies, but also a critical self-awareness that questions why and explores purposes digital communication technologies serve in culture.” (p. 103)
This quote would have never in a million years been something that I would have understood back then. My job was more about getting our sites onto the first page of Google and manipulating text for that purpose based on the SEO standards of the time. We wanted the sites to be navigable and to have the information that was pertinent to the business (we would track page views through Google Analytics) but I am pretty sure we did not take into consideration the thought process of the users or how they were actually using the sites in the first place. Again, kind of embarrassing to admit that those sites were public for a long time! It does help to know that the early 2000’s were still a time of transitioning and exploring in the area of web design and its content.
The information in this chapter about “Technical Communicators’ Unique Contributions to Information Design in Industry”
(p. 106), is what can make the difference between a “professional” site and an amateurish one. I think the fact that I was ignorant to design practices didn’t hurt me as much as it could have is because I have always been very visually aware of what looks right and what doesn’t. We all have had plenty of experience browsing websites and you just know what looks right versus when something is just not settling about a site. That being said, the fact that technical communicators are becoming more aware of the importance of the combination of visual design and content and the businesses they work for are taking it more seriously as well, is a great step forward in the field of web design: “Historicizing genre is significant, because it reminds writers that the ways in which emerging digital documents and virtual spaces are designed transmit values and reinforce or disrupt ways of working and communicating with one another.” (pg. 106-107).
This summer I worked on a small technical writing project for a company as part of ENGL-637. One of the first comments made by my connection at the company was how, at his previous place of employment, he was so tired of technical writers focusing more on design than content that he pretty much eliminated the department. I think this was very short-sighted of him but it also stresses the importance of technical communicators having balance between content and design and making it clear why the two are so heavily connected these days. “We are not merely writers any more. Now we are editors, information architects, usability analysts, interaction designers, project managers, client liaisons, and more.” (pg. 134)
I love that the world of technical communication is one of constant change – it is why I decided to take a second look at a career in this field (first look was
2o+ years ago), and started in this degree. Little did I know just how important of a role technical communicators can play, especially during my naive years as a web designer. I can’t help but wonder, if I had known how all encompassing web design really was, if I ever would have stepped foot into the arena in the first place? I would like to think I would have. If not, I would have missed out on a great opportunity, no matter how high the learning curve was!
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.