Archive for the ‘Conference’ Category

The Hottest New Workshop for Technical Writers

Posted on: December 4th, 2018 No Comments

Recently I had the honor and privilege of speaking one on one with Andrea Ames about her newest workshop. She dives into her mission to help content writers learn how to implement Design Thinking into their work environment to solve problems as creatively as possible. Below is the interview and in it Andrea’s contact information. I think this is valuable information for our WebWorks customers. I am also interested in what human problems content teams face today. Read the interview below to get the context of that question.

Christopher Ward All right, let’s start! Andrea, what would you like us to tell our audience about you? Can you introduce yourself, please?
Andrea Ames Sure. So I am a consultant and coach primarily and I help companies essentially do just two things. One is to create a content business from their teams, so create like a little business within the larger organization and I do that through organization design and effectiveness consulting. And the other thing I help companies with is leadership development. Specifically, content leadership and I do that primarily through coaching. I work with execs and managers, but my happy place is leaders without authority, without positional authority. So content strategists, information architects, and lead content engineers. That’s kind of my sweet spot in terms of content leadership development. I also do some work with entrepreneurs, but for the most part, I am doing consulting and coaching
Christopher Ward Awesome! At Lavacon this year, which was in New Orleans, you had given a workshop called Design Thinking. After surveys and feedback from the attendees, you had the number one workshop, Congratulations! My first question to you is what inspired you to create this workshop? What caused the birth?
Andrea Ames Well, when I worked at IBM back in around 2012, there was a guy there who started a big organization-wide push for design focus in IBM. And when I say design, I mean interaction visual design and user experience design. And at the time the content folks were not really pulled into that very much. So, it was primarily focused on pulling designers, developers, and product management together into a product design kind of a focus, so a lot of the content folks frankly felt left out. Design Thinking methodology is like a big part of the methodology that the design initiative was using. And so, I went to one of the design initiative workshops that the design folks were doing and then I said, “This isn’t that hard. I’m just going to do this for the content people.”
And so, I started to bring the design initiative to the content teams and for me, it really became kind of a labor of love. A little bit because design thinking really is a methodology that is not exclusive to designers and it’s not even, I mean, it isn’t design methodology. If you think about design in the context of problem-solving. So if I have a problem and I designed a solution, then it’s a design methodology, but it’s really a problem-solving methodology and so you can take just about any kind of problem and solve it with a design thinking approach. And so, there are a lot of problems that content people wrestle with in terms of designing deliverables, thinking about how they work together as teams, improving their processes, how they work with people outside of the content team.
I mean, they’re just all kinds of issues and understanding how the team is solving business or product design problems is important given how much a part of a product the content is, which is one of those things. Sometimes the people outside the content team don’t always get. So for me, I really wanted the content folks to understand that inside IBM and when I saw how transformational it really was in terms of the thinking of the content folks inside IBM, I thought, man, everybody who works on content who thinks about solving content problems, who’s working within a company trying to solve business problems, everyone should understand this methodology. And so I started teaching it. In fact, the very first time I ever taught was at LavaCon and now it’s something I use in my consulting business and it’s something I teach in my consulting business or use it with my teams just as a method that I use. But I also for some of my clients, I actually teach them how to facilitate design thinking workshops as well so they can use it in their own teams. So that’s, that was kind of the genesis of it.
Christopher Ward Fantastic! In that description, you just talked a lot about titles and positions and teams. Let’s put it on a more personal level. I mean, you’ve got this great program that you’re teaching, so if you’re speaking to that individual, that individual person and you say, ‘Hey, this is the right one for you.’ What does that individual person look like?
Andrea Ames I mean, really it could be anyone. It could be a writer, could be an editor, could be a manager, could be a content strategist. It could be anyone outside the content team, but the folks I work with are primarily on content teams and they’re usually wrestling with problems like we want a content strategy and we don’t know what it should be. You know, you can start with a problem that big but I think the key for me that really brings all this home is that Design Thinking is not about creating products. It’s not about creating solutions. It’s really about solving human problems. So let me give you an example. One of the examples that the IBM folks used in their workshops that I’ve continued to use is that we started off designing a vase.
So, I asked everyone to design a vase and you get square ones and brown ones and curvy ones and whatever, and they all hold water and you put flowers in them. And then I asked them to do a second exercise, I asked them to design a better way for people to enjoy flowers in their home. Now when designing a vase, I’m constrained. I’ve already got an idea of what the solution is to this problem. It’s a vase. So now we’re just going to make it look good. We’re going to make it fit into a particular decor. You know, there’s all kinds of things we might still design about that vase, but we’re still designing a vase. When people design a better way for folks to enjoy flowers in their home. They come up with living walls, they come up with windows to a big garden. They come up with refrigerated rooms to keep cut flowers, fresher. They, I mean they come up with all kinds of things that are not vases. And so the idea behind design thinking and the reason that it is so powerful for any kind of question and for any kind of person is that we’re really thinking about human problems. We’re not thinking about technical solutions. And what I find is that the folks that I’m dealing with most in content teams, they are thinking about technical solutions. It’s the way, especially tech companies, tend to work. They have an idea of what the problem is. They jump immediately to a solution. I think engineers, frankly, are particularly prone to this. They’ll hear about a problem a customer is having and they’re already writing code for it. And so, you know, we start off with this is the solution and now we have to design it and it’s like totally backward.
So I think content people get pulled into that, but I think we naturally would prefer not to be in that. We naturally would prefer to really understand what the problem is and figure out what the right solution is to the problem for that human. And so I think it’s especially attractive to content folks because I think they really see technical solutions all day long. They spend their day documenting around those technical solutions and trying to figure out how to make those technical solutions palatable to the poor people who have to use those technical solutions. And instead, I think they would really rather be helping to create something that people are going to go ‘wow, mind blown. This is amazing, right?!’ As opposed to, ‘Oh, here we go, another piece of software that I have to learn and work around and be frustrated with,’ and so on. And I think a lot of content people, technical content people feel like, that’s their job and I think they’d much rather be looking at the human solutions. So it’s a very attractive methodology to the folks that I work with in particular for that reason.
Christopher Ward So the purpose of the Design Thinking workshop, you said the human solution. So is the one thing you want people to understand and receive in your workshop, is it that you shouldn’t restrict your solution at the beginning by staying in those constructs, or are you saying, ‘hey look, to really get a valid solution to a problem you’ve got to pull back from your situation and see what the root of the issue is,’ or is it something else?
Andrea Ames It’s, it’s both of those things. And you know, what I think the real benefit of the methodology is that you know, not only do you need to pull back and think about the human problem as opposed to a technical solution, but the methodology lets you consider lots and lots of options. So, you make sure you’re getting the best outcome. It’s really geared well toward teams, teams solving problems together and coming together. So, here’s another way that I use it. Often, I’ll have an idea in mind when I’m working with a client. I’ll have an idea of what the solution is, and I’ve seen this problem a million times. I know what the right solution is, but you know not everybody agrees or not everybody sees the problem from the same perspective and sometimes all I’m trying to do is essentially change management.
I’m trying to help everybody come together and move forward in the same direction. Design Thinking gives everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion. It gives everyone an opportunity to converge on the same outcome and to be bought into that outcome because they all contributed to it. And so it’s very, very useful for bringing a lot of divergent opinions and thoughts and ideas together and coming out at the end with a very convergent direction. So it can sometimes be solving a problem that doesn’t result in a physical solution, physical product or even a logical product like software, but instead maybe a process outcome or maybe a strategic organizational outcome. And it may be that people have all been giving lip service to this. Yeah, we see, we need to go in that direction but we don’t have the time or whatever. And what Design Thinking can do is bring everyone together and get everyone on the same page. And all moving forward because they all feel invested in the outcome, they’ve all been able to contribute, they’ve all been able to form that outcome, and so they’re all invested in it.
So it’s really about, again, taking a step back, as you said, and looking at the human problems versus attacking things as technical solutions. Also making sure that you’re getting all the right people, giving you all the right input to come out with the one or two or three best outcomes. Having all those people bought in and invested in those outcomes in the end, which can sometimes be the worst part. It can be the hardest part for an organization. They’ve got the right answer, they’ve got a great answer, it’ll be a beautiful product, it’ll be an amazing solution, but only half the team [has] bought into it. And that’s not very useful because you know, you’ve got to get everybody who’s working on it behind it. You’ve got to get everybody moving in the same direction. So it has beautiful, a cultural impact as well as a mechanic.
Christopher Ward It sounds like the workshop is really geared to thinking outside the box. When somebody walks away from the workshop, do you feel like that they should see that sometimes the solutions you’re looking for [don’t] reside just with content and that you need to get other departments in there to help you? Or is it, your whole company is having issues and they’re not looking at content often enough to solve some of those issues?
Andrea Ames Exactly. It could absolutely be both. It’s like the blind men and the elephant, right? Or it’s like every problem is a nail when I have a hammer. So I’m a content person. That’s the solution, obviously content. I’m a UX designer…
Christopher Ward Wait … you’re going to have to explain the blind men and the elephant. I hadn’t heard that one.
Andrea Ames Oh really? Ok, so there’s like all these blind men and an elephant and one get a hold of the trunk. He was like, oh, it’s a snake. And one’s got a hold of the tail and is like, oh, it’s a branch. One has got a hold of the leg, [he’s] like, oh, it’s a tree. Right? So, if you are only seeing or only sensing one small part of a very big problem, then you may, in fact, be approaching it with your solution not seeing that actually, it’s an elephant, right? It’s not a twig or it’s not a snake, it’s not a tree. I think, yeah, one of them has its ear and I’m trying to remember what they thought it was, you know, it’s, it’s this very colloquial thinking, coming from, you know, I’ve got a hammer, I’m an expert with a hammer. Everything must be a nail.
I personally think what I love about Design Thinking, and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Jack Molisani introduced me at LavaCon when I do a keynote, but often he says, “You know one of the earliest times that you and I were together and somebody asked you what you did, your response was I solve customer problems.” And you looked at me and said “Right?”
That’s what I do. I mean as a technical writer or as an information architect, as a content strategist, as a content experience strategist, every job I’ve ever had I felt like my primary role was to solve problems for customers. That’s what hopefully makes my team successful. That’s what’s going to make my business successful. If we can make our customer successful, everybody wins.
Now is that always a content problem? In fact, most of the time it’s not a content problem. Most of the time it’s a design problem or a market problem or a misalignment of product in the market or whatever. So, Design Thinking can really help because you want diversity of input in your team, the team that’s going to help you to see every side, hopefully, and as many sides as possible. Some of the times, to solve a problem, teams even bring customers in. In fact, I know one team who was all customers. They did the Design Thinking workshop and no one from the company participated. It was 20 customers. They were solving their own problems. The lesson learned there is sometimes it’s difficult if you’re in the company, working on these products you think you know the audience and so you’re thinking tends to get kind of constrained.
Being in the company when you think about what’s possible, you worry about things like, we don’t have the money to do that, or we don’t have anybody who can code this way or anybody who can create a visual that way. So we think about all the things we can’t do and customers don’t know anything about our resources. They have no idea if we have the money to solve the problem this way or if we have the resources to solve the problem this way. And so they come up with the best solution they know inside and out, what they are experiencing. They know their own pain really well and when you walk them through these exercises, they come out with these amazing solutions. And in this particular case, it was really incredible. The stuff they came out with like the team was blown away because it was things they had never ever thought of.
And they were like, oh my God, we were designing this big complex thing that would’ve been really, really hard and expensive to implement, but we thought it was the right thing and these guys came up with this other thing we never even thought of and we could do that in two months and we don’t need any more people. Right. So they came up with a much simpler, more elegant solution that satisfied exactly the problems they were having. And the company team was all in this complexity mode, so it’s a really, really interesting process from the perspective that it can open your eyes to a whole different perspective on the problem. So yeah, it can be…. I got totally off track on you, but it’s pretty amazing.
Christopher Ward Sounds amazing! And we did get off track, but it was worth it. We at Webworks think this is information, or at least this theory is something we’d like to expose [to] our client, our customers too because we definitely don’t want them missing the elephant. Where can they find out more about you? More about the workshop and possibly receiving some training from you.
Andrea Ames So my website is idyllpointgroup.com. But yeah, I think this is a really beneficial workshop. I’m doing this again at the STC conference in May and it’s going to be a pre-conference workshop and is a full day. STC Summit [is] going to be in Denver May 5th through the 8th 2019. I think we’re going to do it on May 4th. It’s Saturday and it’s going to be a full day. STC is subsidizing half the cost of the workshop, so if you pay for an STC registration you get it half off.
You might also be able to just attend the workshop and not the conference, but I am not sure about that. Now that said we’re only taking 48 people, that’s the max we can take and because we’re limiting it, there will be an application process so it’s going to be a little more exclusive. But we are going to be trying to solve some problems around technical communication and professional development. So we’re going to be doing a customer workshop. In other words, we’re going to have a whole bunch of people from our customer group, our audience group solving their own issues. So it’s super awesome.
Christopher Ward That’s fantastic. It was great speaking with you and we will see you at the STC Summit next year.

 

WebWorks would like to thank Andrea Ames for taking the time to speak with us. Her workshop, Design Thinking is one you won’t want to miss. If you want to look for her at STC Summit be sure to visit the website, or if you would like to talk to Andrea directly just visit www.idyllpointgroup.com

Answer our question below – What human problems do you think content teams are facing today?

LavaCon 2018 Wrap Up

Posted on: November 7th, 2018 No Comments

 

LavaCon 2018 Wrap Up

 

Content Management in a Business Strategy: Customer Experience = Value

LavaCon was a great success this year! There were a plethora of awe-inspiring breakout sessions and workshops that taught us how to write strategic content for the technology-driven zombiefied hoards we face on the day to day. We at WeWorks had a great time speaking with all of you and learning what essential needs you face during this apocalyptic time for documentation.

We wanted to take this opportunity to reach out and let you know that we heard you.

Break Down Silos, Guide Your Customer’s Experience

Own Your Search: Breaking down silos continues to be a common need in the TECOM world. Many of your customers have become frustrated with disconnected documentation that requires too many steps to find the answers they really need. With ePublisher we give you complete control of your search giving you the option to span silos putting all content in one central location. With a fully customizable search, you get to determine the scope of your search connecting document silos and the order in which results will display, helping your customer find what they need quickly.

To learn more about search download our free trial here.

Measure and Improve Your ROI

No Guess Work: Knowing if your documentation is effective has been a mystery in the industry for years. Content creators continue to look for answers because if it can be measured accurately, it can be improved dramatically. ePublisher has unlocked the most accurate way to measure customer engagement through Google analytics event tracking. Using ePublisher to deliver your content will give you the power to get the most out of your documentation and prove to your bosses the value you add to the organization.

To learn more about analytics download our White Paper here.

In publishing, customer experience is the only sure way to guarantee an ROI. This can’t be done through a “best guess” strategy. You need to be able to measure your efforts and have the proper tools to make changes in response to your analysis.

Publishing with ePublisher is the only way to get both measured results and the tools to improve them, guaranteed with the most advanced technology available and 25 years of experience to support your success.

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@WebWorksChris             WebWorks ePublisher
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2013 STC Summit Questions and Answers

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013

I look at the industry today and I just don’t get businesses’ attitude about content. Most feel that content is just a business expense that needs to be trimmed at every budget cycle. Ask anyone who has said, “Hey, if we follow this process, we can cut our cost by this much!” They came across as a rock star for a brief period, but then the next year came around and they were asked, “How much can you cut this year?” It’s as though the very first conversation went something like this:

Business Owner: “We have too much profit. We need to figure out a way to spend all this money. I know! We will waste a bunch of money writing a manual describing how to use our product. It’s perfect!”

I don’t think a conversation like that ever happened. In fact, I think it was the opposite:

Business Owner: “We need to generate more revenue. We need to figure out a way to increase our product value and make our customer more loyal. I know! We will write a manual describing how to use our product and deliver it in a way to increase our customers’ experience. It’s perfect!”

Somewhere along the line, content was turned into a contractual obligation or a liability defense and business strategists simply forgot about documentation. Well, Summit 2013 decided to stand up and say, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

That was one of the things that made Summit special this year—a shift in a mindset that content can and will generate revenue for a company. Businesses need to start planning for that in their strategy. I personally feel the biggest push for this new mindset is the advancements in mobile technology. Mobile devices are going to outnumber PCs 5 to 1 this year, and 1 in 4 adults own a tablet. Now, instead of PDFs, technical writers have to think about Kindles, iPhones, Razors, Galaxys, and so on. This is actually a very good thing for content. Because of instant access on mobile devices, users now want their content to travel with them. Businesses can now increase customer satisfaction through multi-device delivery, and there were a lot of good presentations on that topic at the conference. We had many people coming by the booth and asking fantastic questions: What is HTML5 and how does it work across multiple devices? What tricks do I have to use to display content properly on a smaller screen? What kind of workflow will generate revenue, and how do I align my processes with my company’s business strategy? These are all great questions, and we want to answer them. You can find a few answers in our resource library, but we are also going to be releasing some related whitepapers and tips and tricks in the next couple of months.

One of the big questions was “What do I need to think about when delivering content across mobile devices?” The answer is this: It’s different from delivering by PDF. That is probably the concept most content creators are struggling with. For example, consider tool tips. On most mobile devices, the screens are touch. That technology does not have a hover function, which is what is used to activate the tool tip on a desktop. So, the first assumption is that you are going to lose some functionality when going to mobile. However, this is not the case. You have to remember that users are moving to mobile because it is their preferred method of receiving information. They are already familiar with a mobile environment and want it. Whatever features they can use on a desktop that are not found on a mobile device are just not important enough to them. This actually makes it easier for the tech writer. Design for a mobile environment, and you will be giving users exactly what they want. They will even prefer the layout if they move back to a desktop because the behavior is the same as it was on their mobile device.

We will go into more depth on the differences of a mobile environment in future whitepapers, so keep checking back with us. Soon, that budget conversation will go like this:

“Hey, if you invest this much money in our current documentation, we can raise revenue by 2%.” You will still come across as a rock star, and next year they will ask, “How much do you need this year?” Now isn’t that a better conversation to have?

CMS/DITA North America Conference

Posted on: April 2nd, 2013

Okay, April Fool’s Day is over and now it is time to get back to work. We had some fun yesterday. Check out our April Fool’s article on TechWhirl if you haven’t already: WebWorks Full Optical Opus Learning System Launches Today!

I am really excited about this month because after a day of joking around, it looks like the month for ePublisher is just going to get better. We have our new Skins for Reverb, which will be released this quarter. Also, Research and Development showed me some new products that look so good, I am going to explode if I don’t get to talk about them soon (I have already said too much), and this month I get to attend CMS/Dita North America 2013 for the first time. I am really excited about this month.

I want to do what I can to make it a good month for you as well. I am going to take my camera to snap some pictures and video my presentation with Suzanne Mescan from Vasont, entitled “Show Them the Money! Assessing Your Corporate Value.” I have to check with the conference organizers, but I promise to make that video available as soon as I can. It is customary to wait to release presentations for a certain period of time after the conference. I would also like to hear from you on what else you want to see. Here is a link to the conference—http://www.cm-strategies.com/2013/index.htm—so look around and if you see a topic or someone you want me to ask a question of, just post it in the comments below and I will do what I can to get you what you need. I know budgets have been tight, so if you can’t get there, maybe this can be the next best thing. Also, if you haven’t been to this conference, tell me what you would like to know to help you decide if you should be going. I will also be blogging every day while I am at the conference, so be sure to check back.

Comment below to let me know what you think I should blog about!

Day One at the Intelligent Content Conference

Posted on: February 14th, 2013

Intelligent Content ConferenceIt was the 5th annual Intelligent Content Conference, but it was my first and was once again a long one for ePublisher. It was to be held in San Francisco and hosted by The Rockley Group and The Content Wrangler. When I was first approached about the conference, I went to the website to check it out. The program was full of rock-solid presentations on content management strategies and incorporating multi-devices in your workflow. I liked it and decided to head out.

I went to DLI in Monterrey back in the 80s, so I was familiar with San Francisco, but I didn’t realize how much I missed that town until I flew in over the harbor. The weather was great, and everything went smoothly at the airport. I easily found my way to baggage claim and then to the hotel. After checking into my room and getting ready, I headed to register for the conference and get my badge, program, and bag of goodies, a typical conference first-day ritual. This particular conference was lookinglike it would be a good one, so I was in a pretty good mood during this ritual. What came next was totally unexpected and got me even more excited about the content industry.

After I registered, I was sitting in the hotel restaurant browsing over the program, like I normally do, and I began to take note of all the new technology that was peppered everywhere. Terms like custom HTML5 solutions, mobile apps, ePub 3.0, and others kept popping out at me. What was also new was the context in which these terms were being used, like in multi-device platforms, lead generation, and delivering business strategies. It was all taking shape. I am working on my fourth year at ePublisher. My background is as an analyst. I started in the Army for Military Intelligence and have done it at every civilian job I have had since then. Since day onewith ePublisher, I have said, “Content is not a business expense—it is a revenue generating tool.” This was looking to be a conference that agreed with that ideology.

About that time, my good friends Bernard and Anna saw me gawking at the program. My Canadian friend Bernard yelled, “Shut your mouth! You look like a Texan.” Being from Texas, I naturally answered, “Leave me alone. I am hunting Canadians.” They both sat down to join me, and they were just as excited about the program as I was. We talked all evening about howhelp sets could generate revenue and figured out the game plan for the nextday.

Stay tuned to the WebWorks blog. In the coming days we’ll be posting about the presentations, exhibit floor, evening events, and other ICC happenings.

Tekom 2012 Conference in Wiesbaden, Germany

Posted on: November 28th, 2012

From October 23-25, the annual tekom and tcworld conference took place in Wiesbaden, Germany. This year, SQUIDDS was represented and offered some interesting lectures and presentations.


Trend: Mobile documentation

In the lecture “Techniques, Formats and Capabilities of Mobile Technical Documentation,” Georg Eck from SQUIDDS discussed how easy it is to provide technical documentation for mobile devices in front of 300 interested listeners. The presentation focused on input data and appropriate formats for mobile documentation. The presentation generated much interest among attendees.

Tool presentations at the booth
In addition to lectures and presentations, SQUIDDS demonstrated how ePublisher can be used to create responsive HTML5 outputs. The information was well received, and there were many great questions that SQUIDDS was excited to answer.

Reverb’s HTML5 format
Publishing with WebWorks ePublisher for mobile devices is very easy and the SQUIDDS demonstrations made it apparent. SQUIDDS demonstrated how to use ePublisher’s Reverb with some powerful examples that showed the multichannel and multiscreen outputs that Reverb provides for technical documentation.

Technical Communications—It’s Not Just Documentation, It’s A Mindset

Posted on: August 24th, 2012
Piecing Together The Workflow

The Tech Pubs Social, WebWorks monthly luncheon meet-up of local Austin technical communication professionals, is an informal gathering focused on discussing current industry trends and technologies. For this month’s meet-up, I set out with the topic “Authoring Tool vs. Editing Tool” in mind; however, since the meet-up is an informal round table environment, the conversation quickly migrated into a different direction.

I am ecstatic when I see our conversation veer from the predefined topic. When I see the conversation begin to evolve, I know we are making strides in the right direction. Business doesn’t revolve around predefined parameters; it adjusts to suit the needs of the market. So when I see the course of our conversation change direction, I know we are truly beginning to tap into real-world issues affecting our industry.

The course of this month’s Tech Pubs Social took us down the road of customer service. This conversation couldn’t have taken a better turn, as I believe that now, more than ever, is the time for Technical Communication departments to focus on the customer. Now don’t get me wrong—I know TechComm departments focus on the end-user, but I really think there is a new, special opportunity presented through our documentation that wasn’t present in the past, and now is the time to capitalize on it. All we need is the right mindset.

“Technical Communication is the most pivotal department in ensuring a company’s success.”

This is the mindset that I’m referring to. Documentation holds a very unique position that can help a company decrease its customer defection rate while strengthening its overall business strategy. This unique position allows for documentation to achieve this while giving maximum results.

For example, marketing is used to put the face of your company in front of potential clients. Sales will then have needs-based conversions: if there is a match between customer needs and product features, there is typically a sale. However, this is only about 10% of the process for the client; the other 90% is usage. While the customer is using your product, your product’s documentation is an extension of your company. Your documentation is getting far more face time with your end-user and speaks to the creditability of your company. It also has the ability to make or break you in the eyes of the customer who is looking for ease of use.

Allow me to emphasize my point. When users visit your documentation, it is for one of two reasons. (1) they want to learn more about the product they are using, or (2) they have an issue that needs to be resolved. The cost has already been incurred and the user is now dependent upon your product. This is where you have the opportunity to show your true value to an impressionable client. If you have an open line of communication to that end-user, like that of technical documentation, you have the most relevant form of information exchange with the end-user. Not only is this an opportunity to maximize the customer experience, it is also a great opportunity to gather information that can fuel your workflow. I have only been in the industry of technical communication for three years, but in that time, I have noticed that many companies do not take advantage of this opportunity, mainly because they do not have a proper workflow set up to capitalize on it.

Look at the reverse to further explain the premise. If as a company you don’t meet your customers’ expectations through your documentation, you instill a shadow of doubt in your customer and subsequently have to shift to playing defense the rest of the way down the road. Even if you reach a resolve through technical support, your customers’ expectations have already not been met.

Workflow

I have come to realize that discussing the breadth of a proper workflow exceeds the parameters of a simple blog post. Because of this, WebWorks has decided to compose a whitepaper discussing the steps of a successful workflow in a more detailed manner. This whitepaper will offer you a blueprint on how to capitalize through your documentation. Thus, the main purpose of this blog post is to put you in the right mindset and prepare you for the release of this paper coming soon.

For now, I’ll leave you with these thoughts about the possibilities of technical communication:

  1. Technical communication is not an expense that should have its cost cut year after year, thus making it an afterthought in your business strategy. It is a revenue generation tool that businesses can invest in and see an ROI from that investment.
  2. Technical communication is the most pivotal department in ensuring a company’s success!

Did you miss Christopher’s last entries? Check them out here!

Hot Topics From Summit 2012

Solving the Puzzle of Viewing Content Across Multi-Platform Devices

Solving the Puzzle of Viewing Content Across Multi-Platform Devices

Posted on: July 11th, 2012 No Comments
Multi-Platform Capabilities

This is the second installment of my three-part blog series, which began on June 8, entitled Hot Topics From STC 2012. This series brings to light the three hottest topics at this year’s STC Summit 2012; change, multi-platform mobile devices, and new ways to look at workflows. The first installment covered the topic of change, so in this post I would like to move on to our second topic, multi-platform mobile devices.

The multi-platform topic seems to be an issue EVERYONE has been discussing lately; I’m not just talking about the technical communication industry, but anyone with a web appearance. I personally, have read many articles and researched this topic thoroughly prior to the release of our in-depth whitepaper entitled Responsive UX Design just over a week ago. The whitepaper covers one of the more popular solutions to cross-platform viewer experience achievable today. In today’s market, WebWorks ePublisher is the only authoring tool that automatically codes Responsive Web Design directly into the users output. Now, I’m not bragging (well, maybe just a little), but my primary goal is to let you know that we have done our research on the topic of Responsive Design and what I find missing in almost all of the conversations is the answer to the following questions: Why is it important to be cross-platform compatible? I believe the reason for the omission of this question is that most writers feel their audience already knows why it is important to be cross-platform compatible and therefore think the knowledge is inferred.

So why is multi-platform compatibility so important? The fact is that because there are so many individuals watching this topic today, there are a number of different reasons why it is so important. Personally, I feel it is important because a business wants to reach its entire audience, not just part of its audience. With the advances in mobile technology, more and more of your audience is receiving your content on the go using various mobile devices. A successful company needs to be prepared to meet this demand.

My company’s mission is to help businesses retain their customers, which is why we developed our solution in accordance with this growing trend. We looked at several different ways to resolve the issue of cross-platform compatibility, specifically focusing on the three most common solutions described below, in order to determine the most viable.

Dedicated Mobile Sites
The concept of dedicated mobile sites simply means managing two separate sites: one for desktop viewing and another for mobile users. In this scenario, viewers are directed to the appropriate site when their device characteristics are detected.

We do not see this as a valid solution for a couple of reasons. First, you are doubling your workflow, as two separate sites means you have two sites to maintain because your mobile compatible site is completely different. You’re managing separate forms of navigation, imagery, and at times even content, and this can easily get out of hand or cumbersome to maintain. Second, this method can have a negative effect on your SEO rankings. Having two separate sites with similar content but separate locations can easily have a negative effect on the link juice depicting your ratings. This can also affect your user experience; for example, when a mobile user submits a search query, it has the potential to return content from both your desktop version and your mobile version. If users click on a desktop result, are detected as a mobile device, and then are redirected to the alternate mobile content, they may not be able to find the pertinent information they are looking for. For these reasons, we decided to discount the dedicated mobile site as a viable solution.

Mobile First
The mobile-first solution focuses on adapting content to the smallest device possible. The theory here centers on the concept that when your users move to larger devices, the content will resize to adapt to the larger viewport. This approach was very popular when it first came out; it seemed to be a solution of relative simplicity, and to a degree, it is. However, I think we need to redirect that experience. The process of authoring should be simple, allowing authors to focus on delivering their message to their audience rather than to a particular device. One problem with the mobile-first method is that quality is easily lost. I have seen sites that look great on small devices, but when rendered in larger devices, they become fuzzy and harder to follow. You also lose the ability to take full advantage of the useful features commonly used in larger devices with this method. Again, this method just misses the mark for delivering top quality across the gamut of all devices.

Responsive UX
The Responsive UX solution is coded within the page itself. This solution is also referred to as fluid design. Basically, the coding makes the page a little smarter. It tells the site to detect the device or viewport size and then display the layout to optimize the screen’s real estate. This method focuses on one single site, thereby alleviating the hassle of maintaining a second set of content. It has the capability to handle content around graphics, giving the user the ability and option to scroll a picture, but it resizes text content around the graphics in a readable, non-scrolling fashion. Most importantly, the layout relies on the capabilities of the browser, giving the author freedom to focus on delivering his/her content to the audience. Responsive UX is a technology that is still early in development and fairly fresh to the world of web content, but it has amazing capabilities already, and we feel that as it grows, it will keep getting better.

In summary, after much debate and research on the topic, I, as well as the WebWorks team, feel that the Responsive UX solution is the most progressive, forward-thinking solution, and it offers the most dynamic capabilities to our end users when it comes to the topic of multi-platform capabilities. It puts the heavy lifting on the browser and frees up authors to focus on their content. Furthermore, it lives on a single URL, allowing no deviation in SEO rankings, and it allows users to take full advantage of all the features their device is capable

Hot Topics From Summit 2012

Posted on: June 8th, 2012 No Comments
STC Hot Topics

One of the things I like to do when I’m in the booth is ask people what they liked about Summit. I think STC does a good job putting the hot topics in front of its members and then bringing in people with good opinions about those topics. I am always surprised to see what topics are referenced the most. This year, three topics bubbled to the top: change, new ways to look at workflows, and multi-platform mobile devices.

These are great topics, and really, they are all related. I’d like to shed a little light on how we at WebWorks look at these topics, but to cover all three would be far too broad for a single blog post. So, I will cover change in this blog post and follow with posts about workflow and multi-platform mobile devices. Now let’s look at the topic of change.

There are many good techniques for implementing change in the workplace, but first, it is important to understand why change is needed so that the implementation can be on track. Change in the workplace is needed because the technical communication industry is changing. If you follow the timeline of help documentation, you’ll see that for a very long time, the only medium available was a printed manual. This left a lot to be desired when it came to accessibility because if you didn’t have the manual with you, then you didn’t have access to help. I remember when I was growing up, we had a drawer in the kitchen for all our manuals. There was no organization at all, but if we needed a manual, we knew it was in that drawer, which we nicknamed the “Smithsonian.” Sometimes I would go through it and find manuals of appliances we owned in a different era and then act like I had just found a hidden treasure (like the Acme horse buggy’s whip user guide).

But like all industries, technology would bring a change to help documentation and the technical communication industry. In the ’80s, the personal computer brought desktops to the consumer world and created a need for electronic documents. PDFs emerged as the standard electronic manual. They still held the format of a printed document, but they could link TOCs, which made it a little easier to search for topics. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best technology at the time. Companies adapted the idea of PDFs quickly because they no longer had to worry about printing or shipping costs.

I personally believe this is when technical communications began to be spotlighted in the debit column of business ledgers. This change put a mindset in managers’ heads that technical communication was a business expense and, to manage it properly, they had to look for a way to cut costs.

The next stage in the evolution of technical communications came via Al Gore and his birth child, the Internet (chuckle). Users wanted URL availability for their help content. It seems logical that most people who used a computer would have a hard time remembering a location in a file directory, but they sure as heck could remember anything that was preceded by a “www.” Also, HTML allowed for the introduction of some very rich features with help sets, such as:

  • Multiple ways to express a message or add company branding without having to follow the guidelines of PDF, CHM, or other localized output.
  • Search features for whole document sets and real-time updates through centralized storage of the help set.

Still, there was one barrier that remained: accessibility. Users were either bringing a desktop computer with them or using a manual to access content. If only there were some way to make a computer smaller to give the user some mobility. Now we enter today—the era of Apple’s reinvention of the phone, and the dawning of MOBILE TECHNOLOGY. (You were supposed to hear a booming voice when reading that phrase. If you didn’t, I would suggest going back and reading it again to get the full effect because mobile technology is really pretty cool.)

I would like to add a disclaimer at this point. I understand that I have left out a few things in this timeline, but keep in mind this is a blog post, and I am trying, unsuccessfully I realize, to keep this short. I am also looking at this from a business point of view. We are trying to understand why we need to change the industry, or the workplace. The points I have illustrated on the timeline really did not become a factor for all businesses until they were widely adapted by the market. Businesses do not make changes unless they are certain they will be adopted by a larger proportion of the market. Good businesses make a specific change before that adaptation, while great businesses lead the change. Take, for example, the notebook computer. It has experienced some huge improvements in power, weight, and size, but more people are turning to their phones because they can ACCESS them almost anywhere. That means mobile adaptation is a HUGE concern for businesses . . . which brings me to my final observation.

Why is this evolution of help documentation tied to technology? I mean, really, who cares when and how you get your help documentation? To get in the right mindset for the answer, I want you to think about this: Back when PDFs first came out and managers were looking to cut expenses, why didn’t they just cut out the help manual all together? Because clients, customers, patrons, or whatever you want to call them have always wanted relevant, focused, and accessible help documentation. The exciting part is that they’ve never really been 100% satisfied with the options that were out there, but with today’s advancements in technology, they now know they can get the help they need in the format they want. Thus, today, help documentation is shifting from being a “need” to a “demand.” Needs are cool because if you meet a customer’s need, then you generate revenue for your company. Demands separate businesses into two columns—winners and losers—because if you can’t meet the customer’s demand but your competition can . . . well, I will let you figure out which column your company will fall in. Change can be very good for business; you just need to embrace it and stay on top of it.

STC Summit 2012 Recap For Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Posted on: June 5th, 2012 No Comments
STC Summit 2012

I really like walking into the exhibition hall first thing in the morning. It is very quiet in the room, and everyone is focused on making those last-minute changes to their booths, thinking “Ok, how do I position this pen to catch the eye of potential clients walking by?” Most people would think this level of detail is silly, but if you think about it, all we are doing is trying to use our presentation to help us deliver a message, much like we deliver a message through content. Presentation helps us guide our audience to the things we would like them to see, or places we believe they want to go. An example of this in content is our responsive Reverb output. When it detects a smaller screen size, it expands the table of contents so the user has more relevant information to work with. It changes its presentation of the material to engage the user and improve the experience. Of course, there is one thing that every good communicator thinks about before the presentation, something that is key to the success of delivering any message, but is often hard to understand: traffic.

Here is a good example of traffic. Next time you walk into an exhibit hall, ask yourself, “Would I want to be the booth in the back?” Lack of traffic means lack of opportunity. It is the same with help documentation. Less traffic means less opportunity for you to provide the information your audience needs.

We feel it is important in todays world for technical communicators to understand traffic, which is one reason we always sponsor Patricia Boswell’s Analytics for Web-Based User Docs course. Analytics is a good way to measure the “traffic” of your audience using your help documentation. It helps you know where to deliver the most important information so you can be certain your audience will see it. It can also be used as a tool to measure the effectiveness of content. I can see businesses someday using help documentation to effectively measure an ROI from the content they are putting out to their customer base.

I really like Patricia’s class, and this year she delved deeper in to the numbers and introduced some new tools. The team and I had a chance to sit down with Patricia over wine and sushi rolls Tuesday night. She told us about her back ground with Google and her extensive knowledge on analytics. She is a very interesting person to speak with and certainly the right person to learn from on this topic.

We both agree that Analytics can and will be a key factor in help documentation in the future. It will help technical communicators analyze patterns in their audience, and with that data, they will be able to shape their content to provide the best user experience by displaying the most relevant content at the right time. If you attended Summit 2012 then you should have access to Patricia’s presentation. If you were not able to attend, you can log in and purchase access to all the presentations from Summit 2012 at the same site.