January 31, 2016

Springboarding and Radical Flexibility in Technical Communication

Posted in Commentary, Content Strategy, Disruptive Communication, Documentation, Knowledge Management tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 3:44 pm by degyes

This morning, I did something that I do rather infrequently. That is, I responded to a research survey, this one being conducted by a tech comms professor at a college in New Mexico. The request was to list—in the respondent’s opinion—the most important trends, technologies, and theories impacting the tech comms field over the past five years (with a limit not to exceed ten items).

Having been mostly out of the field for the past almost three years, since transitioning to the financial side of the technology sector, I realized my response might be perceived as a bit presumptuous. Though once I got beyond that initial reluctance, and betting I’d have what to contribute, my thought process got itself into gear. Then, as I started putting together my list (some of which I realize—like outsourcing and apps—are no-brainers), it got me thinking more deeply about the issue of surviving in the brave new world of off-shoring, crowd-sourcing, and rapid paradigm shifts. Which led, in turn, to my evolving theory regarding ‘springboarding’ — or, radical flexibility—as a job survival and career development strategy.

So here are my top 10 items for what we should all be maintaining in our field of awareness as we courageously plow ahead into the ever-changing, but always essential, professional practice of sharing knowledge with those seeking answers.

  • Off-shoring, meaning, expand and deepen training in order to keep US-based TC’s relevant in current market.
  • Outsourcing, similar to above, though focused on “manpower” firms as the competition as opposed to overseas TC’s.
  • Crowd-sourcing, meaning, forcing the question as to ‘why do I need in-house TC’s if the customer will anyway Google their questions’?
  • Cloud-based documentation, meaning, ability to host documentation in a highly modular fashion where updates can be made on-the-fly and in a way that’s transparent to the customer or end-consumer.
  • Video and animation. YouTube contains lots of real gems, offering ‘how-to’ instructions for everyday applications like Word and Excel, as well as for specialized and highly-specialized solutions. Screen-cam tools enable reasonably quick creation of animations and storyboards that have replaced more “traditional” text- and still image-based documentation. These skills are must-haves for today’s TC.
  • Single-canvas presentation solutions (for example, Prezi), which have made fast-paced animations another need-to-have skill for TC’s. (I actually prefer to call these tools “infinite canvas” or “non-linear object path.”)
  • Documentation on-the-go, meaning docs — or any information —consumed via apps.
  • Metrics, that is, the demand for TC departments, teams, and individual practitioners to prove their added value by demonstrating statistically how documentation products and services contribute to the bottom line.
  • Agile methodology, which is a whole philosophy, but I’m referring specifically to having the customer or end-consumer play an essential role in the feedback loop that impacts the documentation that the software (or any product or service) provider delivers.
  • DevOps, which is another whole philosophy, but I’m referring specifically to TC’s needing to keep up in an environment where continuous development and continuous integration rule the day.

In closing, I’ll add that perhaps the most important item, not included in the list above, is what I would call spring-boarding or perhaps “radical flexibility;” that is, the awareness that your professional practice is likely to change considerably in tone and in scope every two or so years, and could even become completely unrecognizable and in need of swap-out after three to five years.

Wishing us all much success as we go forward.

-Dave Egyes


January 4, 2015

Tech Comms Throwback to 1959

Posted in Documentation tagged , , at 5:15 pm by degyes

We’ve come a long way …

Here’s an infomercial from the August 1959 edition of Good Housekeeping.

Actually, from what’s described, the training program sounds pretty rigorous.


Tech Comms 1959

February 22, 2012

A Comic Alternative to Documentation?

Posted in Disruptive Communication, Documentation, Information Architecture tagged , , , , , at 9:28 pm by degyes

Recently, when clearing some bookshevles, my wife came across this illustrations-only set of instructions she’d prepared back in the late-90’s for our then pre-literate daughter, who’d demonstrated a propensity for (supervised, semi-independent) baking projects.

Having a fresh look at these instructions got me thinking about the use of comics and pictures-only documentation for non-literate and pre-literate users. In this case, the images are rather high-context, meaning, they might be meaningless to someone not familiar with the kitchen for which they were drawn, the equipment being used, and the end-product, in this case, popovers.

However, I can validate (or at least visually confirm) that these instructions—with a bit of practice—did in fact work. Our daughter, a pre-schooler at the time, indeed managed to create the intended product, based on following the image sequences in the drawings.

In the years since, I’ve come across a number of instances where a hardware vendor or app provider chose to rely mainly on illustrations, sometimes accompanied by text, other times relying only on pictures, in providing instructions for end-users.

Though I’ve yet to research the topic in-depth, I find the basic notion intriguing. That is, do we tend to be over-reliant on words, in cases where simple drawings would do the trick? Could we, as documentation specialists, make our instructional products more accessible to those who either have difficulty reading in general, or who aren’t familiar with the language(s) in which we provide wirtten documentation? Instead of—or more likely, in addition to—translating documentation into written languages, could we transform our instructions into comics or other illustrations-only media?

For what it’s worth, since I’m not a big fan of pudding-like baked goods, I’ve never actually tried the end-product. Nor am I a “foodie” or sharer of recipies (I tend to overlook such posts in Facebook and instantly delete them from email). Though if you decide to try applying these instructions at home, I’d be curious to hear about your outcome, as well as learn about your experiences with comic-based documentation.