by Whitney Quesenbery, SIG Manager
Every Conference is a chance to take the pulse of the SIG and measure the progress of usability and user-centered design within STC. This year was no exception. Here are a few pleasant surprises from Chicago.
Every year, I ask the audience how many people have no way to influence the user interface for their products, how many make some contributions, and how many actually do the design. Three years ago, hardly any of the technical communicators had much impact, but this year there was a sea of hands for “some contribution.” Best of all, there was solid representation for the people who now actually work on the interface itself. That’s a big change in just a few years. It was also a pleasant surprise to see how pervasive user-centered design ideas are. People are conducting site visits, prototyping, and doing informal (and even formal) usability evaluations. We have a long way to go before these techniques are commonplace, but within the STC community they are becoming standard procedures.
The most amazing thing I saw at the conference was a copy of the text of legal safety regulations from Washington State. The information design was…well…beautiful. The text was large and the readable. The page layout was easy to scan and readable. Even the language was clear and readable. And there were pictures. And running heads to make it easy to find the right section in the inch or so of paper. All I could think when I saw it was that if they could do this for safety regulations, there is no excuse for poor design for anything. Just to top this off, as I was dashing down the terminal in O’Hare Airport, I caught a glimpse of the new United Airlines gate signs. They are large and clear and I could read them all the way across the walkway. They even featured the weather at the flight’s destination.
The happiest thing for me can be found in your Call for Proposals for the 2002 Conference. There is now a Usability and Information Design stem, in recognition of the number of sessions on usability that we’ve had in recent years. I’m especially glad to see usability grouped with information design, recognizing the strong relationship between these two disciplines.
Another pleasant surprise is the continued strength of the SIG leadership group. David Dick, Becky Franklin and Alice Preston are all continuing on the newsletter – with the goal of a Distinguished Award to top our Excellence and Most Improved award for this year. If you are interested in helping with this effort, consider writing an article or working with an author as an Assistant Editor. Susan Duncan is moving up to Membership Coordinator.
For the Conference, Karen Bachmann will be joined by Roger Grice in organizing a Usability Progression. If you are interested in helping Roger, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Basil White will continue the Review Sessions for a fourth year, helped by Dave Rubin. Debi Parush will help organize the SIG Forum.
One bittersweet note is that long-time SIG activist Dick Miller had to miss the conference. Dick is recovering from major surgery, but writes that he is doing well and (in early June)
“went up and down stairs unassisted and upright for the first time since early April, drove my car for the first time since then, and celebrated my new-found freedom by having dinner in a restaurant with my wife.…There’s still a long way to go, but I’m feeling much closer to normal than I have in quite a while (and) I’m looking forward with great enthusiasm to returning to work in three weeks.”
We missed him and wish him well.
So, it’s on to another year for the SIG. Let us know what you think about the newsletter, the web site, or any ideas you have for SIG activities.