Technical Writing as a Part of User Experience
by Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — software documentation tool
Technical writing plays an important role in forming a certain UX strategy, product design and deeply correlate with a broad range of user experience matters. However, many UX teams treat technical writers as afterthoughts. It’s a huge mistake! Strong technical writing can positively impact product success, encourage teamwork, and give the product development life cycle the wall before it is too late to correct the design.
Everything that involves people interacting with something is a part of the user experience. “In the beginning was the Word”, and a lot of things start with writing and reading. So, reading is also a part of UX. That’s why technical communication professionals should be the first to indicate usability issues, but commonly they are brought to the end of the process when they don’t have an opportunity to influence the product design.
Tech writers need to understand how something works so they will be able to describe it to somebody else. In such case, some UX experts recommend to work with technical writers as early as possible. For instance, they can write a manual first as the initial attempt at designing the experience. Then the UX team will trim the manual and answer crucial questions for them:
- How little could we write?
- How much intuitive would it be so that it wouldn’t need any documentation at all?
- Did we take all UX matters into account?
- Did we design workflows through the experience that emphasize the most likely needs or desired outcomes?
- Did we name the fields, menus, and the like in such a way that our targeted user population can guess their purpose correctly more often than not?
And many other questions that have come to light while trimming the manual will help UX team make better design.
Content is a part of UX
In situations where customers are reviewing, comparing, and making decisions, reading the content is the experience as mentioned previously.
You can have a minimalistic and native design, and your users will be happy. But at the same time you can create a florid and excessive design, and your users will have to trudge through the application. So, content itself and technical communications play a great role in the user interface and structure. And tech writers are able to give a plain-language explanation of how your product works, so everyone can understand it.
I repeat it once again — the content is very important if the entry point into your user experience involves a user’s decision making. And in this way the interface can be more successful when your UX team cooperate with technical writers and understand that content is an input to UX.
User experience is well-rounded and informed from many sources, but first of all it deals with user expectations. That is why a problem with UX can be very simple and obvious (not for UX designers) — the user didn’t go down the right path. For this reason UX design needs both sound user interface and great copy developed equally. Creating user experiences is really a team achievement — many well-designed user interfaces fail because of bad copy, and on the contrary, copy that doesn’t integrate well with a user interface can’t support the right value proposition. As a result tech writers together with UX designers can ensure that, when users expend effort considering a choice, they make the intended choice.
In today’s UX ecosystem there is also a movement — Content First Then Design. It means that usually designers spend not so much time thinking about users and their needs, context, and interactions, but collaboration with technical writers can solve this problem as the main point of the design of any system is to present information and allow people to perform tasks. Text is almost all of that. So, technical communication experts are a must for brainstorming and other meetings where to transform “copy” into something a user can easily understand is needed.
Same values is the key of good UX
Technical writers share the same values that are very important for user experience designers. They have a passion for clarity, empathy for users, logical flow, consistency, and a great understanding of user needs, expectations, task flow and usability.
In most cases tech writers should be the first who test different UX prototypes, try out a final version of the design and give feedback to improve the product. Their shared values and good writing skills can give more benefits to the project. For example, many UX designers have not so strong writing skills, and it limits a lot of them to become more proficient. So much of UX work is writing — creating UI text, writing specifications, preparing presentations, etc. That’s why designers should work hard and study syntax rules and style guides. Besides, UX team can ask their technical writers to help and create better user experiences by crafting good UI text.
Also, such collaboration will boost a project development and strengthen team relationships.
According to most expert opinions, clear text might be the key to unlocking the value that the content in the user interface should support the design. UX designers spend too much time using fake text when they should use the real content and put it into the user interface. Using the real text reveals areas for improvement in the design, and technical writing is a great part of this real teamwork!
What do you think about technical writing as a part of UX? Please, share your opinion in the comments below, it’s very interesting for me!
Have a nice day!
Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — best online documentation tool for SaaS vendors