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Event Report

January 30, 2018

Usability Challenges for Technical Communication

Birgitta Meex

The first tekom Belgium event of 2018 was on "Usability Challenges for Technical Communication". The event was hosted by KU Leuven, Campus Sint-Andries, Antwerp.

Prevailing economic and technological developments such as internationalization and outsourcing on the one hand, and connectivity and digitalization on the other hand, continue to have a profound impact on the role and scope of technical communication. In their presentations, three speakers outlined these underpinning drivers of change and described the challenges and opportunities these changes bring from a usability perspective.

Usability Engineering for Technical Communicators

Hans-Jörg Elsen, Varian Medical Systems

In his presentation, Hans-Jörg Elsen looked at usability engineering from a technical communicator’s perspective. Given that both disciplines share a common mission to achieve the best possible user experience, he focuses on their overlapping goals, methods, and skillsets. According to ISO 9241-11, usability is tightly linked to the context of use. Usability considers factors including suitability for the task, self-descriptiveness, conformity with user expectations, and error-tolerance. While stressing the importance of use contexts, Hans-Jörg explained each of these usability factors by means of various textual and visual examples. He argued that “good usability is not achieved by chance” but requires a usability engineering process that describes the context of use, the user needs and user requirements, the interaction with the information product, and finally the design solution. With their specific expertise, technical communicators could actively contribute to this process, working in partnership with UX experts and engineers.

Working with third-party content. What are the challenges?

Jennifer O’Neill, UTC Fire & Security

To reduce costs, companies are increasingly outsourcing the engineering and manufacturing of their products, mostly to China and Taiwan. Instead of doing these tasks in-house themselves for a product (whether hardware or software), they buy the required parts or software from another company to sell to their customers. They may even collaborate with a third-party company to customize that company’s products. Jennifer O’Neill outlined the main challenges technical writers at her company UTC Fire & Security are confronted with when managing third-party content from OEMs (original equipment manufacturer). They range from legal considerations and content quality, brand identity, terminology, and localization issues to project management, the use of tools, and working with multiple external teams who may be dispersed globally. Jennifer concludes her presentation by sharing different ways and strategies to deal with outsourced “contaminated” content, such as collaborative writing.

Trends transforming the automotive industry

Remi Declercq, Tweddle

Starting from Japanese Jinba Ittai (‘Person and horse as one body’), Remi Declercq took us on a multimodal journey through the rapidly changing automotive landscape, exploring what the industry might look like in the (near?) future. He reviewed trends currently shaping the automotive industry, such as diverse mobility, autonomous driving, electrification, and connectivity, and embedded them in the context of global megatrends such as climate change, demographic change, technological development, new business models, digitization, automation and individualization. Remi then shifted the focus on how these disruptive trends have an impact on the user and lay the foundation for a user-centered approach to technology. He sketched the future of mobility as “a fully connected world with a seamless and personalized user experience” and demonstrated how emerging mobility services platforms (like the one offered by Toyota) respond to a changing consumer mobility behavior, especially in urban areas.

As always, participants and speakers from across the technical communication community and beyond had ample opportunity for networking and socializing in a relaxed atmosphere with coffee, Cava and Belgian waffles.