Designed by humans. Used by humans. Never perfect.
Posted by Roger Renteria
Gosh, where do I begin? I love creating technological things. Whether it’s designing a website, creating Word templates, or forms, nothing screams that loudly that I’m a technical communicator. But what I create is not exactly perfect and nothing will be. What surprises me is who uses it and where it shows up.
At my current position at the community college, I am intrigued at what happens to my work. Sometimes it gets mixed up and reused for other purposes. Sometimes I end up reusing my own ideas to base new ideas with. For example, I take photos for the social media channels and sometimes I find that my work is reused and remixed for other purposes. I’m not upset that it gets reused, but I’m fascinated that people look to me for coming up with the idea and design of these communication pieces.
Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski explains that “[w]e build spaces and then we cannot control how users interact with them, and that horrifies and excited the ‘designer’ and the ‘architect’ inside each technical communicator.” In a sense, I’m not horrified or excited, but amused when my work pops up in the least expected places.
Different Flavors of Communicating
Information design is something that I am passionate for and somehow it’s funny that whatever we create, we build upon that framework for the next thing that we use in the future. For example, Twitter is one of those funny social media networks that is an alternative to other full-service networks. Since it’s designed to be open, anyone can find what they are looking for. Twitter is like the Southwest Airlines to social media experience, but it’s not like the full-service experience you can get with Facebook. In either case, Twitter is designed for replacing some aspects of instant messaging and live broadcasting, which would have taken the life of a telephone call and email.
I do like that email is being replaced by many other tools. Much like email replaced the idea of paper-based genres that were internalized and naturalized (Salvo, Rosinski, p. 105). But can we go to the extreme and say no more email? Luis Suarez from IBM quit using email as a primary means of communication and decided to use internal social media tools to communicate with his co-workers (2008). Perhaps maybe going too far won’t be sustainable for most of us technical communicators, yet maybe using a chat system like Slack and a project management tool like Asana can reduce the amount of unnecessary email overhead.
Designing Forms for the Web
When it comes to frameworks, creating and using online forms comes to my mind. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but online forms are difficult to design and use. I say this because at work, I sometimes have to rebuild forms using a form generator and they are not exactly going to function the same as the paper-based counterparts. I don’t like to tell clients that the form is going to not look visually the same as the form they’ve built in Word, but it will serve the same purpose. Instead, I sell the benefits of using an online form, which sometimes helps them make the move to using a form. I always will say that technology make things easier, it just doesn’t always look pretty.
Writing for the Web
In addition to making things not look so pretty is writing for the web. One of my biggest requests at work is adding an FAQ. Instead of tacking on an FAQ to a website, my job went to great lengths to explain why we don’t use them. For the web, we emphasize writing in plain language, use headers, bullets, paragraphs, and short sentences. In a sense, this reinforces one aspect of technical communication because we ensure contextual orientation to design.
What I wish we could do is explain to everyone else that we are the experts in what we do and people around us could at least understand that we aren’t making things up and this is based on best practices that have been tried, tested, and verified.
Lastly, I think these readings were quite interesting, but mostly topics I’ve learned from since attending conferences and experience in the workplace. It’s interesting how much of the communication within technology applies to our field.
Salvo M.J. (2010). Information Design. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 51-81). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.
Suarez, L. (2008, June 29). I freed myself from e-mail’s grip. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/jobs/29pre.html
About Roger RenteriaProfessional Life: I am a technical communicator, writer, and presenter. Hobby Life: I'm a blues dancer, hiker, and foodie.
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