by Karen Molloy, i2 Technologies Inc
Reprinted from Usability Interface, Vol 6, No. 3, January 2000
Recently I transitioned into the role of user interface designer after working several years as a technical communicator in the software industry. Like many Technical Writers, I felt some frustration at being downstream in the development process and having to deal with some product usability issues while I wrote user documentation. As result, I became interested in getting involved upstream in the development process.
A Technical Writer’s role on the product team is as the communication liaison between the software domain and the user’s world. Thus, a Technical Writer takes a broad view of the product and how it fits the user’s world. This user perspective is critical to communicating effectively with the user. Not surprisingly this user advocate role also describes the view of the user interface designer.
The level at which you can participate in product development depends on your interest and attitude as well as the attitude of the rest of the team. The structure of the company, the level of interaction you have among other participants of the team and the value the company places on the importance of usability all factor into how successfully you can interact in the development process. Often you need to be proactive and educate members of the team on how you can add value. If product usability is important to you, consider working for a company that places value on the importance on usability. Otherwise, you might find yourself fighting an uphill battle.
The usability work I did on a project while I continued to write user documentation included techniques that benefited many functions on a product team. Collaborating with the interface designer, I developed user profiles, performed task analysis, conducted usability tests, created the product glossary, and edited messages and other text in the interface. This work had a positive impact on the user interface, documentation, marketing materials, and course development.