Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dressing Like a Grownup--
Al Hood posted pictures from the STC conference recently on his president's blog. There was a picture of me "on Mike's one day to dress like an adult." I actually had on a tie and sportscoat because I was a keynote panelist for the opening ceremony.

Well, I'm dressed kind of like a grownup again today, no tie, but an Izod golf shirt, khaki slacks, sports coat, and leather loafers. I'm going to the STC meeting tonight.

Normally I wear shorts, t-shirt, and sandals to work. What's interesting about that is that I work for IBM. When we (ISS) got acquired by IBM, we asked if our dress code would be affected. Their reply was interesting:

Thomas Watson, IBM's founder, established the white shirt, blue tie, blue slacks look because he felt that "IBM people should look like our customers," and in those days, IT folks and accountants looked like that. Well today, our customers wear shorts, t-shirts, and sandals; so I'm right in step with founder Watson's philosophy.

It makes me wonder, though, as a technical communicator, how else have my readers changed over the years, and what archaic misconceptions might I be dragging around with me? Is the user in my user-centered approach to designing documentation still around, or did he retire years ago? Is he now wearing sandals and t-shirts while I'm writing for wing-tips and ties?

If users shift from being task-oriented, for example, to being concept oriented, how would we know? In fact, I suspect they have. A lot of our conventional technical communication wisdom predates intuitive user interface design, dashboards, and such. We still document GUIs as if most of the world still wonders how radio buttons work.

At my last job, which dealt with online banking, one of our sponsors commented that the Internet and email were becoming the technology of "our customers' parents; the new customers want to bank by Blackberry and cell phone."

The whole persona of the user who is intimidated by technology and befuddled by arcane interactivity--in short the user of my user-centered world--is probably going away (gone away?). To paraphrase Pogo, "We have met the user and he is us," is the downfall of all designers. We design and write for ourselves in the belief that our users are like us. Or we write to someone as they were twenty years ago when we first started studying them.

What if they grew up?

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