Tech Comm Students Earn Award for Website Redesign

A team of Seneca students who helped redesign The Regional Municipality of York’s website have won a Toronto Ovation Award of Merit.

The awards are presented annually by the International Association of Business Communicators to recognize communications excellence throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

Technical Communication students Meghan Graham, Hailey Thomson, Olivia Gajadhar and Nicholas Chin, along with Corporate Communication students Eric Sisti, Olena Babiy and Cinthia Guizar redeveloped the York.ca website as part of their four-month co-op placements with the municipality.

Their website work was acknowledged for its easy navigation, attractive design and clear writing.

A formal gala is being held on May 22 in Toronto to recognize all of the 2014 Ovation Awards recipients.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Website Triad

Who is the first person you call when you need a website? It should be a technical communicator. Often described as a web content developer or web writer, a technical communicator with knowledge of the important disciplines of web usability and user advocacy will save you thousands of dollars when building or enhancing your web presence.

Most people contact a web development firm that may or may not include a technical communicator on the team. Web developers are necessary for building a website. Their job is to make the website work. They code the HTML, XML, Javascript, or Flash, they build the links, they ensure the page loads quickly and that the meta information is correct.

A web designer might be the first call you make when thinking about your new site. Their job is to make the website look pretty. You want an up to date look and feel for your site, you want the colours to be attractive, and the overall design to be inviting. Designers create or modify CSS and page templates, create the visual images needed for the site, and give the entire site a pleasant, uniform look.

The efforts of those two professionals give you a site that looks nice and works well. There are no broken links. Images don’t overlap. The site is attractive and functional.

But does it do the job you need it to do? Can customers or potential clients find the information they need? Does the user interface (UI) support the user in achieving their goals? Is it usable?

If you had called a technical communicator first, that individual would not only project manage the site’s development and co-ordinate the activities of the web developer and web designer, but they would ensure your content is well written and makes sense. They would ensure any user of the site is able to navigate to what they want easily, and is prompted to take the right action. They would ensure your website meets the objectives you have for your web presence. They would review and improve the work of the designer and developer, pointing out any potential bugs before the user sees them. And they would keep you from spending money on bells and whistles that may make the website cool but contribute nothing to the value the site offers visitors.

Getting a good website requires having each member of the website triad — the technical communicator, the web developer, and the web designer — work together to make a site that does what you need it to do. Whether you want your site visitor to buy something, pick up the phone for an appointment, or just get necessary information quickly and effectively, the way your site merges functionality with design in a way that leads the visitor to take that action is largely the result of the technical communicator’s skill in unifying the development and design efforts.

Web content also needs to be optimized for search engine results (SEO), something a good web writer or content developer can accomplish as well.

Usability for a website means that the visitor can accomplish the goals they had when they came to the site. If customers leave without buying because they couldn’t figure out how to navigate to the product they want, or they get frustrated because they cannot read the faint gray type on the web page, your site has failed, no matter how much money you spent on it. If you are hiring a creative agency, make sure they have someone with technical communication skills assigned to your project.

Technical communicators save companies money, time and headaches no matter what jobs they are asked to do. Helping make websites that work is just one of them.

Bad Websites — poor usability, interfaces, navigation or content
Good Websites — great usability, pleasing interfaces, efficient navigation, and purposeful content.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Why You Need a Technical Communicator

Every company should have at least one technical communicator. A technical communicator (technical writer) is a valuable addition to the team in any organization, especially one in the scientific, medical, or high tech industry.

Technical communicators:

  • Facilitate communication
  • Translate technical language into plain language
  • Document processes and procedures
  • Communicate technical & scientific developments to a lay audience
  • Help turn information into knowledge

The techwriter gets to know the market (audience, users) and works with marketing and sales to provide information that assists them in reaching the market with clear, easy to understand information. This is particularly important if complicated scientific, medical or technical information is involved, or if you need to explain policies or procedures. As experts in plain language writing, techwriters help demystify things like contracts and difficult procedures.

If new products are in development, technical writers work with the development team to document every aspect of the new product or service. This information then becomes manuals of instruction, training materials, and website content.

Technical communicators are very technically adept. We can quickly get up to speed with technologies we have never seen before, and we use a variety of leading edge technologies to communicate with our audiences.

When creating or improving a website, a technical communicator works with the web designer (who makes the site pretty) and the web developer (who programs the site and makes it work) to make the content and navigation easy to understand and usable (usability refers to the viewers ability to accomplish goals with the site).

Technical communicators are one of the few people in a company who interface with nearly every department within that company. We routinely work with customer support to ensure they have up to date information to help customers with problems. We work with quality assurance to perform user testing, standing in for the user with our expert knowledge. Consequently, technical writers can reduce customer support costs and help improve a company’s relationship with their customers. We work with marketing, to share information about the market or end user. We work with sales, contributing to sales literature and getting to understand the customer.

Technical writers are industry-independent. While you may find one with a specific background that is more relevant to your industry, a technical writer with a degree in Fine Arts is just as capable as one with a degree in Engineering when it comes to simplifying complex things. It is more important to look at the writing, editing, and consultation skills a techwriter brings to the table.

Further, technical communicators are skilled in project management, because they drive their own documentation projects in concert with any service or product development projects, and they have good people skills, being able to interview subject matter experts, as well as being able to develop rapport with a company’s customer base.

Technical communicators have skills in:

  • Project Management
  • Leadership
  • Interviewing
  • Publishing
  • Human Resources
  • Management & Budgeting
  • General Business Skills
  • Negotiation, Risk Management, etc.

(Add accounting to that and it’s pretty much an MBA!)

If your company has need of any of the following, you should have a technical communicator on staff:

  • User guides
  • White papers
  • Marketing brochures, spec sheets, labels, signs, packaging, press releases
  • Help files
  • Error messages, interface tooltips and labels
  • Installation instructions
  • Usability testing
  • Technology transfer
  • Project documentation
  • Technical reports
  • Web sites
  • E-Learning
  • Corporate videos/documentaries
  • Product demonstrations & trade shows
  • Focus groups & customer advisory boards
  • Single-Sourcing
  • Knowledge management
  • Content management
  • Science writing
  • Customer newsletters
  • Beta testing programs
  • Voice mail script writing
  • E-mail response writing
  • E-book publishing
  • Mass personalization
  • Meeting facilitation, especially video conferencing

Technical communicators are the Swiss Army Knife-employees you can plug in anywhere in your company and have them be productive and add value to your bottom line.

If you’re interested in hiring a technical communicator, contact me or communicate with the local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication in your region.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pretty but Useless

Usually when companies need web sites designed, they call a designer. It’s no wonder — they are thinking about the look of the site and how it will represent them and their brand. But more important than the look and feel is the site’s usability — does it allow the visitor to accomplish what they need to do to meet the objectives of the site?

Often, that question is never asked. Designers are not anchored in the content or the functionality of the web site. They can deliver a beautiful web site that might even win design awards. Your users will be impressed by its glitz and glamour. But will those users take the action you want them to take when they visit your site?

Content is what drives the visitor to place an order, call for an appointment, or contact you for more information. Navigation must support the content so the users can find what they’re looking for.

As an example, let me cite what happened with one of my clients. They had paid thousands of dollars to have their website redesigned, and one of its features was a very cool bit of Flash that zeroed in from outer space onto the company’s building. This trinket was on the Contact page and was supposed to help you find the company’s offices if you ever wanted to go there.

Where are we?Where are we?

Well, good luck with that. While the Flash was impressive, the end result was a pointer on a named street near cross streets that you HAD TO KNOW were in Saskatoon. Zooming in from space you got a vague impression that you were going to the prairies, but without any way to zoom back out to situate yourself it was impossible to tell even what city you were in. Addition of the street address was some help, but the user would still have to look up that address using some map program. Why not save the $$ it cost for the Flash and just embed the link to Google maps? That would provide far more functionality for your visitor, at almost no cost.

As technical communicators, we are experts at making sure information — content — is delivered to the user in a way that helps them accomplish what they need to do with that information. We often find ourselves as the bearers of bad news to clients who have invested in beautiful design or fancy development without any consideration of the content on the page.

When you need a website, be sure to ask your designer or developer what they know about making content usable. Better yet, hire a technical communicator who will spearhead that project for you, and ensure you get a site that works. It’s a better investment of your dollars, and it will still be pretty.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail