Adobe TCS 2017 & the Tech Comm Ecosystem: A Fast 5 Interview with Joe Welinske

As a practicing professional and an educator in the technical communications field, Joe Welinske uses years of first-hand experience to evaluate the tools and practices that are evolving how we produce content. In our recent Fast 5 interview, Joe assessed the Adobe Technical Communications Suite (2017 Release) and how the tools we use impact our work in tech comm, user assistance, and related fields.

1.  Tell us your impressions of the 2017 releases of FrameMaker, RoboHelp and the Technical Communication Suite. Any favorite new features?

Joe has used the tools in the Adobe Technical Communication Suite for many years, and thinks that the newest release provides a lot of interesting things that technical writers can grab onto. Within Adobe TCS 2017 suite, the FrameMaker release made a significant dent in the “design debt” that it has accumulated over the years, with its contemporary look and enhanced usability for authors.

Much of his recent work focuses on using RoboHelp, and he’s quite pleased with how the new release takes better advantage of responsive design. Joe is also a big fan of the thumbnail and variable views, and more importantly, the improvements to search functionality, including auto-complete.

2. Give us some of your thoughts on Adobe entering the DITA CCMS market with the launch of the XML Documentation Add-on for Adobe Experience Manager.

Noting that the Seattle area (his current home base) has only recently started to emphasize DITA, Joe pointed out that multiple groups within some of the largest organizations are now looking to implement XML solutions. The Adobe XML add-on for Experience Manager helps teams like these because it’s a scalable and portable solution that integrates with other systems (various CMSs, LMSs, etc.). This kind of integration, as well as stronger data management capabilities support a more enterprise-wide approach, something that’s key for larger organizations, and those that are facing M&A (merger and acquisition) scenarios.

3.  How does the evolution of the Adobe tech comm solutions over the last 10 years align with the changes in the overall content creation and management space?

One of the biggest changes in the last 10 years has been mobility, and the proliferation of many types of devices with varying screen sizes. Adobe continues to enhance the responsive design capabilities of both FrameMaker and RoboHelp. The user experience (UX), and the user assistance component of UX is often described as an ecosystem, one which has evolved from large printed manuals to a digital and personalized experience. At the same time, software development has become much more iterative. Adobe is building out products in tighter release cycles with fewer “large” releases. The Adobe Technical Communication (2017 Release) is one such large release, but Joe sees regular updates as part of Adobe’s commitment to authors and to the delivery of great digital content.

4.  Where do you see technical communications going in the next 10 years? What should practitioners be doing now to prepare for what’s coming?

Joe compared the user assistance needs of someone sitting at a laptop or desktop working inside an organization, to those of a traveler rushing through an airport, towing a suitcase while trying to locate information on their cell phone. The UX ecosystem requires that developers look at environmental and functional context as they design solutions.

A lot of organizations already have need of tech comm activities, but “don’t think about it in a traditional tech comm way.” For example, Joe believes that video will play an increasing role in how user assistance is provided. And as the use of microcopy expands to deliver a robust user experience, both professionals and the tools they use need to handle both responsive design needs and adaptive content needs. Joe also notes that visual design is becoming a larger part of the tech comm ecosystem, and the back-end content needs, such as documenting APIs will also continue to grow.

5.  What do you believe separates Adobe from the rest of the tools vendors in the technical communication space?

To an experienced user assistance evangelist like Joe, having a comprehensive set of tools in the same kit is essential to ensuring that tech comm / user assistance can meet the needs of customers with multiple devices, and a variety of operating contexts. The ability to work with tools from the tech comm suite and tools from the creative suite, provides a more seamless authoring and production experience.

Can you point to some significant changes that you think will improve our experiences as content/delivery people? Do you also see some products as being much better for the end user/student experience? (audience question)

Joe pointed out two features in particular that he sees as key for authors building out comprehensive solutions. He emphasized the importance of the responsive design features in RoboHelp and FrameMaker to support consumption of content on any size design. He also explained that, in light of how ubiquitous Google has become in our daily lives, the improvements to search functionality, particularly auto-complete, are essential to producing user assistance.

Students in programs such as the one at the University of Washington where Joe teaches, can take advantage the opportunity to use the Adobe Technical Communications Suite (2017 release) for three months.

We closed out the Fast 5 interview by noting that The Writers’ UA annual salary survey just completed and the annual tools survey is still open for a short time. Technical communication / user assistance professionals have the opportunity to catch up with him at his regional Writers’ UA events.

Catch up on all of TechWhirl’s coverage of the Adobe Technical Communications Suite (Release 2017).

Connie Giordano

Connie Giordano is a partner in INKtopia Limited and editor of TechWhirl's Tech Writer Today online magazine. She has been a list member and contributor since the days when 14,400 baud was high speed communications, and Windows 95 was state-of-the-art.

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