UCD and Technical Communication: The Inevitable Marriage
1. UCD and Technical
Christopher S. LaRoche, Northeastern University
College of Professional Studies (CPS)
Senior Lecturer & Technical Communications
Brian Traynor, Associate Professor
Faculty of Communication Studies
Mount Royal University
2. • 2000 KM apart – why are we presenting
• Evolution of programs
• Evolution of courses
• Skillsets for future
• Opportunity to approach student
engagement for entire programs
3. • The merging of technical communication with
the Usability/User Experience (UX) field is
inevitable and increasing quickly.
• Failure to recognize and embrace these
changes will hasten the field‟s demise.
4. • As a result, our teaching and technical
communication programs must reflect this
change to remain relevant and functioning.
• Much of this workshop will include discussing
this theme by providing examples and exercises
to show how this change can be central to a
technical communication program.
5. • “User-Centered Design (UCD) is a methodology
that requires that the user of products be thought
of and understood during the entire process of
product conception, development, and
• Many technical communicators attempt UCD
methods & practices, but that is now required
6. • Methods and mode of content delivery always
change (this is a constant) – but the types of
content required and expected are rapidly and
7. • “For students, teachers,
and practitioners, the era
of „just in case‟
documentation is dead,
while the era of „just
8. • “Failure to adapt these methods quickly in both
the classroom and the profession will invariably
lead to the field‟s further decline and likely
extinction as we currently understand it”
9. • Evolution of the Bachelor‟s Degree in Information
Design at Mt. Royal College/University
• Evolution of the MS in Technical Communications
program at Northeastern University
10. Workshop format
• Overview of some courses and how
UCD is integrated
• Warming up the sketching muscle…
• Navigation labeling…
• Moving from self-centric to usercentric
– Student Experiences & Self-service
• Debrief and feedback
11. Design Knowledge Lifecycle
12. Design is choice
Two places for creativity (Buxton, 2008):
– The creativity you bring to enumerating
meaningful distinct options from which to
– The creativity that you bring to defining the
criteria, or heuristics, according to which you
make your choice.
16. Defining Sketching
• Sketching is integral to design practice
• Idea generation and refinement
• Develops an open philosophy for input and
• Not developing artistic skills, developing ideas
and exploration of creative practices
18. And learn
• When uncertainty is high – keep stakes
• Manage front-end process differently
• User-centric orientation embedded
• Participatory design for optimal input
• Iterative user involvement, testing and
20. Sketching experience – Cashing out!
• Class exercise. Come up with the best
possible cash withdrawal experience you can.
– How long should it take for you to get your cash?
– What might be the minimum standards for this
– Can you make this a „good‟ experience
– Can you come up with ideas that can improve the
– Sketch out what the experience will be like
What do we want to tell them? What do we want them to do?
27. COMM 1610: Tools for information design
Phase 1: Idea
• Visual brainstorming map identifying appropriate Instructions
for Re-Design (IRD) and the final, selected IRD with rationale.
Research, scoping,& benchmarking
• Background research, set of user profiles, scenarios of use,
benchmark test for original instructions.
• Large collection of sketches and their iterations;
final sketch ready for user testing.
Testing and refining
• User test of re-designed instructions; final sketch iteration;
and class presentation.
28. User Involvement
• You don‟t know what you don‟t know!
• Who to test? Ethnographic considerations
• Separation of user and designer
30. Project poster & presentation
• Showcasing work
• Group dynamic and
• Presentation skills
• Public exposure
• Investment – not looking for perfection
• Professional orientation – portfolio of work
• Group think and compromises
• Project management
• Self-centric User-centric
32. Sketch to Prototype Continuum
Fail early and Fail often
33. Navigation & Labeling
• TCC 6110 – Information Architecture:
evolved from a theoretical to practitioner
class - redesign an existing Web site.
• Focus is on the review of the navigation
and labeling within a Web site.
34. Navigation & Labeling
• Class includes a final project that updates
the navigation and labeling of a Web site
of their choice.
• This activity is the next logical step after
the sketching ideas discussed - moving
on to update and make a product more
35. Navigation & Labeling
• Card sorting – critical to revamping a Web
site‟s navigation and labels.
• Suggest as part of a way to better
understand UCD and user centric model –
attempt this method to see if clear trends
and themes emerge.
36. Navigation & Labeling
• After card sort, have students see if other
methods needed (such as competitive
analysis of other sites) and then start
prototyping for the updates.
• Following is an example of label and
40. Navigation & Labeling
• Understanding of basic concepts of
information architecture and investigating
UCD methods to review and validate
labeling and navigation of Web site is goal.
• Promote more visual approach to move
from text-based approach too.
41. Navigation & Labeling
• Another key concept is students now
demand key practical skills „take aways‟
from this class and program – this is one.
• Failure to provide these practical skills to
students will hasten the program‟s demise.
• Must constantly reinvent/update program.
42. • Student engagement – ownership of work
• Creative tensions
• Students see instructors collecting data on course
COMM1610 - Learning
COMM1610 - fall 2008 students
COMM1610 - fall 2008 instructor
Writing clearly and
on your own
people of other
43. Future steps
• Suitable projects
• Earlier testing
• Tracking cohort through
• Reinforce process in other
44. Future steps – required skill sets
• Traditional technical communication skills are
still required: solid writing skills, technological
• Understanding of UCD and usability is now also
required – and a true understanding of your user
• Documentation continues to exist – but must be
focused on new ideas such as using tool tips,
graphics, videos, etc. More words not an option!
45. Using UCD on ourselves
• Please comment on the survey we passed out.
• Let‟s discuss how our presentation mapped to
your understanding and needs!
• What successes have you had with your
students so we can learn from you.
46. Thank you
• Now we want to hear from you! What do you
think about the approaches presented? Can
they work for you?
• What have you been doing that we can learn
from? How are you creating an engaging, safe
learning environment for your students.
• Let‟s continue the discussion: