By Nisha Somnath
You are the last one to join your technical communication course. The class is already a week ahead of you. You login to join your class chat and things bounce off without even nanoscopically touching your head. You despair, fret, and curse everyone you have ever come across. Determined to change the existing sad scenario you decide to get hold of the course book right away and log on to the Amazon website. Within a few clicks, you not only find your book, but also some book recommendations, some of which look interesting. You like a certain book but do not have the money to buy it now, so what do you do? You add it to your ‘Save it for Later’ list. Next, you decide to check out. You enter your credit card details and voila! You are done! In five minutes flat, you not only find the book you want at a reasonable price and find some additional books of interest, but also do a secure Web transaction.
I remember years back when my parents bought me my first computer. Buying things online was a scary thought. Google was yet to be born and Internet searching was not as much fun as it is now. Even though there were a lot of websites and e-commerce domains, none of the websites were user-friendly; they were ‘workable’ rather than ‘usable’. Back then; the Web was new and so delighting that its content didn’t matter. Anyone could build a website, and it was sheer joy just to be out there. But soon the commercial websites appeared, began to grow up, and continue to mature. Today, the sites are created to communicate, engross, and build enduring relationships. Now they look friendly and nail what the user wants.
Content on the Web is the king and ease-of-use its minister without whom the king is lost. Be it e-mail, product description, news, or an online classroom, the primary effort is to reduce the distance between the instructions and the actions.
Take for instance the Google holiday logos. Google customizes its logos according to the calendar and takes the user to descriptions of the importance of the day the logo represents. It’s going a step further to make the user feel at home.
Another example is the Amazon website. Once you create a login and search for products, the site brings up product recommendations based on your previous searches. Unlike in the past, the most visited sites today are not cluttered with flash popups, blaring music, and tons of graphics. They are conservative in design and modernistic in content and presentation.
Earlier, the whole Web was divided into small portals and you had to visit specific websites to get information. Today, websites are coming up with new ways to promote successful communication. One example is Google Webclips. It's a thin headline strip that displays a stream of news headlines at the top of your e-mail. A user can select from a list of news sources to display. Now, is that user-friendly or what!
The world is shrinking. It is all right there, at our fingertips. Websites are coming up with new ways of supporting successful communication and user experiences. We have not yet discovered all of the techniques for successful communication. New techniques will be found, and the ones described here will evolve as new methods are invented and user knowledge and skills change. Until then, let us, the budding technical communicators, join in the effort to keep moving the Web and other arenas of technical communication toward the new, higher bar for usability.
Amazon. http://www.amazon.com (accessed February 10, 2006).
Google. http://google.com (accessed February 10, 2006).
Norman, Donald. Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 2005.
Sachs, Tammy, and Gary McClain. Back to the User: Creating User-Focused Websites. [Indianapolis, Ind.]: New Riders Press, 2002.
“Usability News (news headlines) for all the latest news in usability and human-computer interaction.” Usability News. http://www.usabilitynews.com (accessed February 10, 2006).
“User Advocacy and Human-Centered Design.” Don Norman’s jnd.org. http://www.jnd.org (accessed February 10, 2006).
Van Wicklen, Janet. The Tech Writing Game: A Comprehensive Career Guide for Aspiring Technical Writers. Checkmark Books, 1992.
The mission of the Society of Technical Communication is to improve the quality and effectiveness of technical communication for audiences worldwide.
MSU Student Chapter
Department of English
Minnesota State University, Mankato
230 Armstrong Hall
Mankato, MN 56001