JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

I was privileged to be the keynote and featured speaker at the 2009 Design IT conference in Tokyo Japan on August 27-29, 2009. Sociomedia, Inc., manages the conference under the astute leadership of its CEO, Toshikazu Shinohara. Sociomedia has been influential in introducing significant new practices to the Japanese market, including user-centered design and usability. The DITA standard fits very well into the Design IT conference offerings.

The first day of the conference was completely devoted to DITA, which was new to many in the audience and to the Japanese market in general. At the conference, SDL announced that Yokogawa Electric would be one of the first companies in Japan to adopt the DITA standard for their technical publications. Many corporate representatives at the conference seemed positive about the interest of their companies in adopting DITA, especially because it is an international standard. In the final panel of the day, DITA adoption was promoted by Akihiko Suzuki, Immediate Past President of the STC Tokyo Chapter, Clive Thomas from SDL, and other panelists. However, there is much work to be done to educate the Japanese industries about the DITA standard.

The news was also announced that the DITA Consortium of Japan, managed by a group of influential companies such as IBM, Antenna House, SDL, and JustSystems (XMetaL), will be translating my Introduction to DITA into Japanese. This book will be the first instructional material available in the Japanese language.

The second day of the conference focused on the adoption of content management systems and the importance of developing a strong process for managing content. I discussed the importance of managing content effectively to gain business benefits and provide excellent information to customers.

On Saturday, Bill Hackos and I conducted a workshop on user-centered design practices following an Agile development model. The large group of attendees, representing many major technology companies in Japan, was very enthusiastic about the methodology and the role Agile development might have in emphasizing the importance of the customer. The workshop stressed the need to involve customers directly in the design process as participants in the Agile development teams. We used as an extended example our experience working with the team of developers and physicians on the VistA project to create an electronic patient record for the US Veterans Hospitals.

Japanese designers and writers are just beginning to learn about the advantages of DITA implementation. Like many user communities, they are concerned with the adoption and learning processes. It appears that many technical writers in Japan do not have a dedicated information-development manager but work for individual engineering groups, which makes adoption more difficult. However, their companies do recognize the importance of following international standards, which may hasten adoption.

Beyond the work

Not only did Bill and I enjoy participating in the conference, we had a wonderful opportunity to visit the Japanese countryside. We had arranged with a Japanese bird watching guide to spend two days looking for Japanese endemic bird species and south-heading migrants from the Arctic. The first day took us into the rice paddies to the north and east of Tokyo. The paddies are a beautiful, vibrant green, just beginning to be harvested. In the paddy areas already harvested, we found a wealth of shorebirds looking for seeds and bugs in the shallow ponds and mudflats. We also were pleased by the beautiful Japanese-style tiled roofs in black and bright blue that adorned the homes around the paddies and in the small towns.

Our visit to the marshes turned up the rare, endemic Marsh Grassbird and the Zitting Cisticola. Flying over the area were good numbers of the local Black-eared Kite. As we headed south along the shore of Tokyo Bay, we found migrating shorebirds, including Terek’s Sandpiper, which has a slim, upcurved bill. It’s a bird we’ve admired in the bird guides but didn’t expect to see.

The second day had us heading south, taking the train to the town of Kamakura. We spent a few more hours on the shoreline to see the flocks of Green Pigeons that come to drink salt water. Then we headed into the mountains on the slopes of Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, a partially cloudy day hid the very top of the volcano, but we enjoyed the view and the cool temperatures at high altitude. We also found the gorgeous Red-flanked Bluetail, the Arctic Warbler, and the Spotted Nutcracker in the pine forest just below the tundra area of the mountain.

On the way back to our hotel, we boarded the Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train. It’s quite amazing going that fast. It took us only half the time to return to our hotel from farther away than it did on the regular train heading south.

We enjoyed all the experiences visiting the countryside and trying new (to us) Japanese food. Bill’s only concern was with the sushi serving that had been moving across the counter-top only moments before. The sushi chef handed Bill the shrimp with the word, “Fresh.” It certainly was.

We enjoyed the hospitality of our hosts and the kindness and help of everyone we met. We look forward to returning and having a bit more time to experience this beautiful country.

View more Design IT 2009 photos on flickr.