TechWhirler Recap for September 23

Beer, the solution and cause of the world's problems - Homer SimpsonThis week’s update is supported by Platinum sponsor ComponentOne & their Doc-To-Help Help Authoring Tool (

Weekly Summary

This week’s recap is brought to you by some beer that’s a lot like Guinness but wasn’t.  However, as it turns out, drinking this pseudo Guinness still required one to drink copious amounts of water before bedtime or their writing would be

  • take longer than anticipated
  • and shorter than usual.

Let’ just say that this week’s post is short and succinct by design.  Ahem, By Design is the theme for TechWhirl this month.  While we have covered tools like personas and books to help people collaborate, this week we’ve been looking into the outcomes of that design work with Ryan Minaker’s piece, “So Easy Even a Child Can Do It – Building an Interface without Documentation and us polling readers to see if they’re part of the design process, or just the writer.

Ryan’s piece explores the financial obligations his young daughter commits him to through an easy-to-purchase-stuff UI of the PlayStation 3.  While he and you probably applaud the ease of use, is it too easy to purchase?  Most online purchases normally need at least one additional password to make the purchase, but not here.  Click, click, and forget.

Easy is often good.  Great examples of thing we want to be easy: using a fire extinguisher, a toilet-paper dispenser and wine opener.  However, sometimes tougher is better.  We probably want a more difficult UI for say, a handgun, or software that allows us to be experts (any Flash experts out there?).

Should all devices be über simple to use?  – It depends.  Sometimes we want easy – understanding the braking system of a car – but sometimes we want difficult – adult childproof caps on medicine.  The thing that is a constant through both waves of design and understanding is that it is always evolving.  Darwin would be proud at the how everything from software to cleaning products has evolved.

The evolution almost always brings more functionality and either more or less complexity.  It seems that our role as technical communicators is to ensure that all is understood, whether it’s descriptive guidance on the latest professional software, or that simple note on the game controller, which reads “take controller with you if using around a small child and you leave the room.”

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What You’re Talking About

A quick What you talkin’ ab’out to our Tech Writers and their discussions in our email discussion group:

  • Julian Cantella started a timely discussion on “Choosing and managing customer-facing terminology” with implications for usability, that presents quite a different twist on what we usually think of as usability.  Among the other good posts, Gene Kim-Eng offered a common-sense set of guidelines that’s worth a look.
  • More from the usability front, this time from Richard Hamilton who is looking for opinions on “Correctness vs. Usability” with regard to capitalization and in light of context (a letter to parents). What do you think about following rules versus enhancing understanding?
  • Deanna Korth started looking for “Outlining tool recommendations” and after good selection of advice including mind mapping software and Word’s outlining function, discovered her own plug-in for Framemaker solution called Enhance, and then found out it’s not supported in FM 10.  More Whirlers to the rescue, with recommendations on turning on Structure and using Outlining in FM.

In Case You Missed it: This Week @ TechWhirl 

  • New: “So Easy Even a Child Can Do It–Building an Interface without Documentation” by Ryan Minaker |
  • Classic: “Biggest Lies Tech Writers Tell?” by Wade Nelson |
  • Poll Question: Do you play a role in your organization’s product/user experience design process? |

Upcoming Articles 

  • New: “Developing Mobile Help for Field Personnel” by Laura McNeilly
  • New: “Tips and Tricks: Documenting a Constantly Changing UI” by Craig Cardimon and Jacquie Samuels
  • Classic: “Nobody Reads Manuals Do They?” by Geoff Hart
  • Poll Question: Do you read the manuals for your mobile devices?


We want to send a very special “thank you” to our sponsors for working with us on the design of their ads.  Tip of the toga to you.


Platinum AAdobe

Platinum B: ComponentOneMadcap

GoldVancouver Island UniversitySociety for Technical Communication (STC),

EC Software


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