A firsthand look at the birth of usability, where it is now, and where it’s headed
The author of “Technical Communication and Usability: Intertwined Strands and Mutual Influences Commentary,” Janice “Ginny” Redish has been active in both usability and technical communication for over 30 years. In this article, Redish leads the reader on an exploration of the ways in which technical communication and usability influence one another and how understanding these influences can help practitioners in both fields take their work to new heights.
I was inspired by Redish’s transparency throughout the article. She makes it clear that she is not the know-all, be-all of the field of technical communication or usability, but she remains confident in what she does know through her three decades of experience, and she speaks in the first-person narrative, which makes the article both easy to understand and easy to relate to. Redish also points to several publications where the reader can find other valuable information on the history and the future of usability.
While looking back on the history of technical communication, one of Redish’s goals is to remind us that “usability, user-centered design, and UX design came from technical communication.” Usability may not have been a profession until the late 1980s to early 1990s, but “technical communicators were doing usability professionally much earlier than the 1980s.” Before there was much need for computer manuals and online help systems, technical communicators of the 1970s focused on the usability of government documents, utility notices, brochures, leases, and much more, and I found it fascinating to learn about the role Redish played in making usability what it is today.
“Successful technical communication requires excellent collaboration skills, the ability to work well in multidisciplinary teams.” Throughout the article, the importance of teamwork is a common theme. Rather than disciplines competing to lead the pack and creating unnecessary tensions amongst teams, rather than “valuing one academic degree more than the other,” Redish strongly recommends expanding our notion of teamwork all the way up to the executives and managers of our teams, which she calls “collaborating in the large.” We must remember that we, along with our bosses, are all on the same team and share the same goal: to deliver the best product possible to our clients. The better we can communicate with everyone, from our colleagues, all the way up the ladder to the executives, the better the product will turn out.
Now that I have a deeper understanding of how tightly intertwined technical communication and usability truly are, it comes as no surprise to learn that some technical communicators choose to switch completely to the usability field as “their background makes them ever mindful of the importance of content and communication” and that it can be seen going the other way too, as “increasingly, usability professionals realize the importance of well-crafted content and writing.”
Technical Communication and Usability: Intertwined Strands and Mutual Influences Commentary, by Janice (Ginny) Redish
Viewpoint Written by Jonna Sharp, Texas State University
Edited by Jeranda Dennis, Texas State University