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June 2007 Issue

By Jonathan Follett

Published: June 18, 2007

“Our digital user experiences—while far from silent—do not leverage audio information to the same extent that they do visual information.”

For most people, sound is an essential part of everyday living. Sound can deliver entertainment—like our favorite music or the play-by-play call of our hometown baseball—and vital information—like the traffic and news reports on the radio as we drive to work.

Audio signals also help us interact with our environment. Some of these signals are designed: We wake to the buzz of the alarm clock, answer the ringing telephone, and race to the kitchen when the shrill beep of the smoke alarm warns us that dinner is burning on the stove. Other audio signals are not deliberately designed, but help us nonetheless. For instance, we may know the proper sound of the central air conditioning starting, the gentle hum of the PC fan, or the noise of the refrigerator. So, when these systems go awry, we notice it immediately—something doesn’t sound right. Likewise, an excellent mechanic might be able to tell what is wrong with a car engine just by listening to it run.

Since people are accustomed to such a rich universe of offline sound, it’s notable that our digital user experiences—while far from silent—do not leverage audio information to the same extent that they do visual information. When designers and developers create user experiences—be they for Web applications, desktop applications, or digital devices—audio is often a missing ingredient. Read moreRead More>

By Daniel Szuc

Published: June 4, 2007

“As designers, we try to balance user needs with business needs.”

You are the lead designer—or perhaps even the sole designer on a product team. You have just completed your product design, and it’s time to walk through your design approach with the project stakeholders, including management, developers, and users. What do you need to do to prepare for your presentation?

This article provides some basic tips to help you better prepare to walk through your product designs with stakeholders.

Focusing on Users

User-centered design requires

  • understanding your users—typically, through talking with them and creating personas
  • designing with your users in mind—by focusing on users’ goals and developing task scenarios
  • evaluating your designs—by doing usability testing with real users to see if they understand what to do when using the product you’ve designed

As designers, we try to balance user needs with business needs. Creating personas that represent our users is one way we can focus on users and understand the impacts of our design decisions on the business. Read moreRead More>

By Luca Mascaro

Published: June 4, 2007

“Typically, the more time you have, the better the solution you are likely to devise, because you can metabolize more ideas and reflect at length on more user interface and interaction design issues.”

On a quiet spring morning, one of our clients—the director of a small firm with ten employees—called our office and wanted to see me the very same day to discuss a new project. When we met in the afternoon, he told me his firm needed a new Web site for the launch of their latest product, which they would promote—and, hopefully, sell—only on the Web. The site was to include communications tools for interacting with customers, Help, and a blog on which they’d announce new versions of the product.

Nothing strange so far. The firm meant to invest, as it had previously done, in user-centered design, online promotion, and development by my firm and two other partners. However, toward the end of the meeting, the director told me that everything must be online in three weeks’ time for a fair, and the whole site must be completed on a budget of less than $15,000.

Many firms and professionals who work internationally in user-centered design would not have taken up the challenge. In addition to the project’s limited budget, time is vital during the design phase. Typically, the more time you have, the better the solution you are likely to devise, because you can metabolize more ideas and reflect at length on more user interface and interaction design issues. Read moreRead More>

By Mike Hughes

Published: June 4, 2007

Published: June 4, 2007

“Describing a professional conference is a lot like the proverbial tale of the blind men and the elephant.”

Describing a professional conference is a lot like the proverbial tale of the blind men and the elephant. One felt the leg and thought it was like a tree; another, the side and thought it was like a wall; and yet another, the tail and thought it was like a rope. Jared Spool opened his blog about the recent STC conference, “Where Did Technical Writing Go? with the following observation: “It is at the 54th Annual Conference of the Society of Technical Communicators, this week in Minneapolis, where I’m getting a glimpse into what I believe to be the demise of technical writing.”

I think Jared must have been standing at the wrong end of the elephant. What I saw was a society of professionals emerging from a process of reflection and redefinition with a vitality and momentum that said, “There’s a new sheriff in town, and she’s brought the posse with her.” The sheriff is Susan Burton, the new STC Director who opened the conference by reporting on some significant changes that have happened this year:

  • the redefinition of the technical communication profession—This new definition for use in the Standard Occupational Classification system could have significant impact on how the profession compares with others and, accordingly, in setting appropriate salary expectations.
  • the addition of key staff members to support critical society services
  • the upgrading of society business infrastructures
  • a complete revision of the society bylaws

Read moreRead More>

By Stacia Marlett

Published: June 4, 2007

Organization 1 star
Content 3 stars
Presenters 3 stars
Proceedings 1 star
Venue 4 stars
Hospitality 4 stars
Community 4 stars

As a technical writer, I’ve been aware of the Society of Technical Communicators (STC) since I was in college. However, I’ve never joined the organization. This year, the STC Technical Communication Summit was held just a short drive away from me in Minneapolis, on May 12–16, 2007, and my employer paid for me to go.

The best part of my experience at the STC Summit was meeting people who, like me, are craving information on the trends of which we are such a large part—such as Web 2.0, user-centered design, and new software tools. For the most part, I got the information I craved. As a technical writer who is professionally heading deep into usability and user interface (UI) design, I actually went to the conference for the usability certificate program.

Each certificate program—there were also programs for e-learning, master writing, content management, tech comm 101, and team management—comprised a two-day weekend seminar before the conference, plus four required sessions during the conference itself. Read moreRead More>