Thursday, March 31, 2005


Information Design STC SIG - rechartering input

I think the Information Design area is critical to the transformation that STC and the technical writing profession is undergoing. STC President Andrea Ames' references to the commoditization of writing, and the insights we get from the work of people like Barbara Giammona* are important foundations for the conversation. At the risk of stating the obvious, the changes to the profession are tied to the larger changes that have previously affected manufacturing and coders. And it won't be enough to simply be project managers interacting with work outsourced or moved to company facilities in other countries. A recent issue of Businessweek Magazine (March 21) devoted the bulk of the issue to outsourcing and offshoring moving up the development value chain to what was thought to be a domestic stronghold: design. The challenge to the profession is providing unique value add.

But it's not all gloom and doom. That same issue issue has an editiorial which is worth reading in its entirity (Getting An Edge On Innovation) that contains this enticing passage:
And far more people should be graduated in the "soft" sciences of anthropology, sociology, and psychology. Whether it's redesigning hospitals to improve patient stays (and lower costs) or building stores to increase the experience of shopping (and raise profits), more of these "right brain" people will be needed. Many of the best jobs in the future will be found in the sweet spot where design, customer understanding, and emerging technologies come together for

In there, along with other recent writing about the value of right-brain tendencies, is the germ of the definition for information design in this globalized, connected world.

*Barbara Giammmona, "The Future of Techical Communication," Technical Communication, 31:3, August 2004.

This text is an edited version of part of my response to an open request to the STC membership from Ann L. Wiley for feedback on rechartering the Information Design SIG.

Monday, March 14, 2005


Technical Writing Profession - a transformation

Last weekend, I attended a reunion of the Bay Area Publications Managers (BAPMF) "Founders" here in Silicon Valley. These are people who were considered early members of the organization. Although I have not managed a publications group for many years, I have always maintained a connection to the technical writing community. I was struck by the sheer amount of experience in the room, where I'd guess the average was around 30 years in technical publications. It was also telling how many were no longer managers, but individual contributors, or had moved to other lines of work. For a number of reasons, being a technical publications manager is a tough assignment. Historically, it has always had its challenges, but in recent years, it has become more so.

And yet this looks like just a symptom of what is affecting the larger profession as evidenced by its professional organization, The Society for Technical Communications (STC), which is currenly undergoing a self examination and change under the banner of a Transformation. Given the changes in technology and the larger context, including the economy and globalization, the transformation is much needed. I'll be returning to this topic in the future.

Friday, March 04, 2005


Standard start

Joining up the blogsphere with the traditional remark about starting to blog. Ten years ago the opening comment ( - Jul 14, 1995) was about starting up my own Web site after spending half a year putting up sites for others. Coincidentally, that comment concerned Bill Fraser, whom I ran into again recently. The Valley remains a small place.

I've had the domain for 10 years so as you might guess, I've been journeying in information design for at least that long. The STC links are a good jumping off point for the range of what is meant by information design. Recent touch points on the edges have included speech interaction using VXML, motion based media such as video and Flash, and handhelds. Most recently, I've been working in the more mainstream world of taxonomy, structuring information, search optimization, and content management system vetting.

So this is the kind of stuff I'll be kicking around here. I expect I'll also be unable to resist the occasional observation on our times. Too much formative time in Berkeley.

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