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The Chameleon in You

by Daniel Nelson

This is the old versus the new. Today, our world is full of special effects, flying colors, and fast-moving objects. What does it take to amuse us these days? Not much? How does the role of a technical communicator change with how current information is communicated?

Adaptation! Just like a chameleon changing color to adapt to its environment, successful technical communicators need to adapt to their current environment. A technical communicator just can't get by being a good writer, knowing sentence structure or even being a pro at the subject at hand. Technical communicators must give their audiences what they want—special effects. What is one area of study that can help technical communicators adapt to their environment? Knowing about information design.

According to Richard Wurman (Davis, 1998), information design is comprised of the following:

  • Thoughtful graphic designers
  • Creative information technologists
  • Inspired writers and journalists

The Society for Technical Communication's Information Design Special Interest Group (SIG) believes that topics such as programming, interface design, and interactivity design should also be included in the new roles of technical communicators. Is this too much to ask of a technical communicator? Sure, everyone will have their specialties, whether it is writing, graphic design, page layout, etc. But how much information should technical communicators know?

It's hard to keep up with the changing technologies. There are so many mediums that technical communicators can use their palette of skills on. For example, the Society for Technical Communication contends that "technical writing is no longer restricted to the printed book, but can be found in a variety of information delivery systems, from the Web to online help, training materials, EPSS, even cell phones!"

Since technology is changing the shape of communication, technical communicators do need to adapt. If technical communicators use the skills they already have and get involved in new project environments, they will blend in nicely. So the question is: "Can you change colors?"


Davis, Bonnie J. 1998. An Interview with Richard Saul Wurman. Design Matters, 3, (2),

The Society for Technical Communication's Information Design Special Interest Group [Web site].