WritersUA 2014: Day 1: Tuesday 4 March

March 5, 2014

NOTE: All my conference posts are written on my tablet so formatting and typos may abound. I’ll fix them up as best I can,  but some fixes will have to wait until I get home.

Topic length and granularity (Matthew Ellison)

Key principles of John Carroll’s minimalism: modular, task based, get user up and running ASAP, make use of prior knowledge, guided exploration.

What can we learn from blogs and wikis: have set a trend for expected article length and attention span online (Tom Johnson); blog posts should be 300+ words for SEO purposes, ideally about 500 words; Wikipedia had guidance on article size – not too big or too small!

What is a topic? Chunk of info presented to the user – ‘article’ with a beginning and an end; building block /snippet that can join with others to make a complete article.

What is a topic? One idea? Supports one task? Answers a question? Shortest effective piece of communication?

Agreed definition: standalone piece of content. Self-contained cluster of chunks of info, each of which depends on the others for context, on a single theme, with an overall narrative flow. An example only makes sense in the context of the topic – it is rarely standalone.

Put hyperlinks (e.g. mini TOC) at beginning of topic (‘above the fold’) not at end – better for accessibility and screen readers. Always add related topic links and think them through – do not automate! Navigation aids help user get full scope of length of topic.

Google, Microsoft, and Adobe now call help topics ‘articles’

Trade-offs between long and short topics.

Narrative not suitable for reuse; shorter topics have more potential for reuse.

How long should a topic be? IT DEPENDS!

Intuitive UI design (Everett McKay)

Intuitive UI shouldn’t need doco or training.

Intuitive UI features:

  • Discoverable
  • Affordances
  • Predictable
  • Responsive
  • Efficient
  • Forgiving
  • Explorable.

Consistency is really important for intuitive UI (and for writing too!)

‘Users shouldn’t have to experiment to understand the interaction.’ Showed a digital shower controller? In a wet environment? I’m not sure that’s a good idea!

New Blackberry doesn’t have a back or home button. Even sales staff don’t know how to use the device once they get in a couple of layers.

Not everything has to be intuitive. Some things can be ‘strategically unintuitive’. For example, unintuitive UIs can be used for advanced, infrequent, optional commands, shortcuts. But there is a cost for these.

Levels of intuitiveness:

  • Intuitive
  • Usable
  • Unusable

User testing: Do it for the harder stuff; should find the easier stuff internally and fix first

Use streamlined cognitive walkthrough to evaluate intuitiveness of design. Always have someone not familiar with app when doing streamlined cognitive walk through

Consistency is key!

Creating audience-centric documentation using Author-It (Hamish Blunck)

Hamish used images of a snake devouring crocodile as example of consuming in small chunks suitable for audience. Clever!

Case study for audience-centric approach to doco; multiple geographic states, multiple roles.

Look at the big ticket items, and strike a balance between segmenting doco and overdoing it.

Various tools can create variants (as they are called in Author-It). Content swaps happen when you publish.

Plan for variants, decide base content, keep number of variants to a minimum to avoid confusion.

Base variant decisions on published output NOT on how you organise objects, taxonomy, metadata.

Good example of using variants for an organisation’s doco based on state and role, including SharePoint integration.

Help content for all – responsive HTML (Kevin Siegel)

This was most disappointing session of the day for me and I left after 15 mins. The speaker was fine, but the focus was entirely on RoboHelp, which I didn’t expect from the title of the session, but the worst was the demonstration that the speaker started 10 minutes into his session. The lighting in the room was very yellow (not his fault!), which made the slides look very odd, especially the grays, and the resolution was such that the fonts on the screen were very blurred and so small they could not be read, even from the 5th row where I sat. The speaker indicated at the start of the demo that the demo would take up the rest of the session, so I left as it was impossible to see what he was doing.

10 tips towards template tranquility (Bernard Aschwanden)

This was the best session I attended all day. It was fast paced and covered a lot of ground, but he offered some very practical tips for both Word and FrameMaker, a remarkable achievement in the time allotted. Everyone learned at least one thing from this session that they could implement immediately.


See also:

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