Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Newsy Blog--
Al Hood announced at last week's STC meeting that I am the "Atlanta Conference 2009 Planning Committee Chair." I remember shooting my mouth off that we needed such a committee. Holly Harkness and Al swear I volunteered. (Personally, I think everybody else took one step back.) On a serious note, I think the 2009 STC conference being in Atlanta is a great event to spur us to re-invigorate our Atlanta chapter, and I'm eager to get some folks together and help make that happen. So avoid making eye-contact with me in the next few months, otherwise you will be chairing a sub-committee. (The COOLEST one will be to organize and man our promotional booth at next year's conference in Philadelphia.)

I have a new column out on UXMatters discussing the benefit of collaborative walkthroughs with user assistance. Give it a read when you get a chance.

I'm on a team right now that will be taking our new user assistance design out to the usability lab at Southern Polytechnic State University next month. They have a great lab out there, and I encourage technical communicators to get more involved in the usability of documentation. One of the most important problems we still need to understand better is the conflict between our desire to produce complete documentation and the user's reluctance to get off task for too long. We are hoping where I work to start a long-term research relationship with SPSU to help us understand the roles user assistance can play in the context of solving problems within software applications.

One more sales pitch: My new book A Research Primer for Technical Communication that I coauthored with George Hayhoe is due out today! OK, it's no Harry Potter, but I do think it demystifies research and sets a practical agenda for defining best practices within our profession. Give it a read (and support my granddaughter's college fund).


Jeff said...

Hey Mike! (avoiding eye contact...)

I will be interested in hearing about your findings from SPSU for several reasons. First off, I'm always curious how you 'test the help' without wondering "Did I design this information completely wrong?" Secondly, to better understand what you ultimately identify as complete documentation which I believe is what you were addressing in your posting regarding Encyclopedias do not user assistance make. Is it the system itself or the user interaction with the system that you consider completely documenting?

As an information designer (starting to shy away from the term "interaction"), I'm always torn as to why the user needs to request user assistance in the first place. Is it failure of the UI or the user attempting to learn something new? What was it about the presentation or mapping of the information itself that did not resonate with the user leading them to engage the UA? Does the information design need modified or is the user looking for more efficient strategies to problem solve?

Mike Hughes said...

Great questions. Our approach to the Help is to downplay telling the user how to interact with the UI. We are emphasizing critical concepts and application expertise instead. Of course, we include task information, but we try not to make that the main message. See my article Anatomy of a Help File for more information about the architecture we are using and will be testing.