Focusing on User-centered Design


October 2000

Focusing on User-centered Design


Hi JoAnn,

Yesterday I had a wonderful day catching up with some reading (not much time for that), and I had the time to do some reflecting.

With great interest I read the April issue of Usability Interface about testing the documentation and the 10 heuristic statements for documentation.

Also, the article about technical communication and Customer Support in Best Practices (August issue) was very interesting.

These articles gave me a lot of ideas. I am currently trying to do a long term plan for processes and quality, and these articles provided me with a lot of input.

Then I read your column and was quickly brought down to earth again. My immediate reaction was that it just can’t be as bad as you were describing it. But then, thinking it over again, I realized that it is possible. (Unfortunately!)

My guess is that people are scared of the change. It is easier sitting by the desk, writing, and not encountering any people at all (not users, not marketing, not training). Then nobody can tell that you are wrong. By opening up to users (and the user is always right…) there is a great possibility that you, as a technical writer, will be wrong in your assumptions. And all of a sudden a lot of hard work begins: thinking and restructuring, and the confidence goes down because you can still be wrong even though you work very hard.

Receiving comments on your work in a professional manner (not being offended by the criticism) can be hard and many people may need training to handle user comments. Also, the technical writers might be worried about their own competence when it comes to getting the information and using it to make the documentation better.

Maybe also the vision of user-centered design can be too large for many writers to comprehend. They know by heart that it is the right way to go, but they might have problems seeing how they fit into the picture. What can they do that would make a difference?

Well, what to do about it…

  • Never let go. If user-centered design is the vision, then it is and may not be negotiable. Continue to spread the word over and over again.
  • Identify baby steps that will lead to the vision, and keep on reminding that this is the way to go to get to the vision.
  • Talk personally to every writer to make them see how they fit into the picture. Many different roles are needed to make this happen. Identify these roles and let the writers tell you where they think they fit in.
  • Measure customer satisfaction, etc. to be able to show that it makes a difference to the customer.
  • We are talking a lot about how hard it is for writers to abandon the one book = one writer thought and move into information elements. However, the change to user-centered design might be as hard for the writer. It will not just happen, unless carefully planned.

Well, just some of my thoughts. We are slowly getting back to the routines after a very rainy summer. School starts next week, but a lot of people are still on vacation so there is time for reflection… we all need that sometimes! CIDMIconNewsletter

Best regards,

Ylva Krantz
Quality Manager
Ericsson Radio Systems AB