What tech writers can learn from UX designers

We tech writers have a lot in common with user experience designers, really!

Even though we may step on each others turf occasionally, we share a common objective: Make customers and users successful with our products. Add the fact that our jobs combine creative challenges with restricted resources, our situations are structurally so similar that we can learn a lot from each other.

So if we technical communicators are serious about overcoming departmental silos with our contents, we should also pick up a few tricks from the guys and gals in the next room or cubicle…

Here are just some a few lessons I’ve learned from blogging UX designers that speak to us technical communicators as well. Incidentally, they are strategic and processual, but I’m sure we can also learn from their specific methods:

Doing stuff you weren’t hired to do? Keith LaFerriere’s “Why Did You Hire Me?” has some advice for you. It easily applies to technical writers who find themselves writing for marketing or editing and polishing anything from offers for sales to presentations for the exexcutive board. (All of these are fine, respectable tasks – but maybe they’re not what you excel at or where you see yourself going…)

Countering less than brilliant ideas which managers or customers may have about your work is the topic of Whitney Hess in “No One Nos: Learning to Say No to Bad Ideas“: “It is my job to put an end to bad design practices within an organization before I can make any progress on improving the lives of our customers.” Replace “design” with “documentation”, and you have yourself a mission. Whitney uses best practices and data to make her case and also shows just how to say “no”.

Winning your manager’s support to implement a new method, such as topic-based authoring, is essential, but difficult. Especially if the cost-benefit argument unexpectedly fails. In “Selling Usability to Your Manager“, David Travis recommends a more psychological approach to present salient benefits beyond the bottom line.

Getting buy-in for better processes across your company is the subject of a virtual panel discussion “Evangelizing UX Across an Entire Organization” written up by Janet M. Six. Designers and information architects weigh in with helpful advice, such as:

  • “For different groups to embrace [it], those groups need to see the value in the process — not only for the organization as a whole, but for their particular role and discipline.”
  • “Practitioners should reframe the issue by asking managers to support and enhance the ongoing satisfaction of the customer experience.”
  • “The one clear finding that has come out of the entire UX movement is that focusing on your customers is the surest, most direct way for any company to make money.”

Realigning can be a good alternative to redesigning, as Cameron Moll explains in “Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign“. The “Incessant Redesign” seems to afflict designers more often than technical communicators. Still, his basic idea also applies to documentation: “The desire to redesign is aesthetic-driven, while the desire to realign is purpose-driven.” There’s a place for either type of project; Cameron’s post helps you to make the right decision.

– What alliances with other departments have you found helpful? What methods and tricks have you learned from colleagues in design, training, customer support, etc.? Feel free to leave a comment!

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3 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by writerriver and Sujith Kumar Mallath, Kai Weber. Kai Weber said: Learn from UX designers how to improve & evangelize #techcomm in your company http://p2.to/Wrz […]

  2. […] “What tech writers can learn from UX designers“ […]

  3. […] To learn more from neighboring disciplines, see my post about “What tech writers can learn from UX designers“. […]

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