G+G logo   Gordon & Gordon is a partnership of two award-winning writers who specialize in high-technology, Manuel Gordon and Gordon Graham. Our clients hire us to explain complex products and to persuade demanding customers. We also share our many years of experience through practical, cost-effective consulting and training.  















Want to Deliver Usable Software?
Involve a Technical Communicator

by Beverley Fingerhut and Manuel Gordon

What do your users want?

They want software with an intuitive user interface, effective online help, and excellent user guides and training.

How are you going to deliver this? Make technical communicators part of your software design team.

What a Technical Communicator Can Do

Good technical communicators produce good documentation. But if you bring them into your software design team, you can also use their skills to produce better software. Here's why.

When technical communicators begin a new project, they start by doing an audience analysis. They find out who the intended users are, their background and education, their knowledge of computers, their likely attitude to this new piece of software, and the conditions under which they will use the software or read the documentation (in a classroom? in the cockpit of an airplane?)

Similarly, technical communicators understand the tasks a user wants to perform while using the software. Why waste this understanding only on the documentation? Instead, make technical communicators part of the design team, and take full advantage of their skills.

What You Can Do

1. Include technical communicators in your project,
both to assist in designing the user interface and to develop the documentation and training materials.

2. Integrate one or two technical communicators into the development team early. Use these communicators to help design the user interface. You'll want senior people who have kept up to date by taking courses in human factors, reading journals, and so on.

3. Treat the technical communicators as team members,
not as an afterthought, or people hired merely to "pretty up" documents produced by developers.

Benefits to the Software

The software will be more intuitive. This reduces the time and effort required by users to do their tasks.

Let's say that you cut the time to find a frequently-used option from 3 seconds to 1 second. Multiply that 2-second savings by how often your users will need that option during the life of the software. That time costs money.

Users also save time when they can quickly find information on the screen rather than the help system, in the help rather than the manuals, and in the manuals rather than the customer support line.

And intuitive software requires less support. Have you ever calculated how much your company spends to process each call? Spending money up front on good technical communicators can save money on support in the long run.

Benefits to the Development Process

When you work directly with users, technical communicators are more likely to understand the user's perspective. Fruitful consultation means that users are more likely to "buy in" to the project.

When you don't work with users (such as when you create a new piece of shrink-wrapped software), technical communicators act as user advocates, because they are users, not programmers.

Developers spend more time dealing with functionality, less time dealing with screen design. They're happier.

Technical communicators get to help design the product, so they're happier.

The project's resources are used effectively. So you're happier too.


Putting a product onto the market right, with an intuitive user interface, effective online help, and excellent user guides and training, does add to the cost.

But you can pay now, or pay later: in lost sales, low user productivity, increased support costs, and damaged reputation.

Technical communicators can help your development team deliver software that users need, want--and will pay for.

This article originally appeared in Computing Canada.

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Last updated:
August 26, 2002

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