UA Conference – Takeaway Thoughts

Attending a conference is a mixed bag of experiences yet regardless of your knowledge in certain areas it is always a worthwhile to meet up with your peers and discuss the various common issues, gripes, moans and solutions that we all share.

I was also lucky enough to bump into some ex-colleagues and to meet some email correspondents face to face, not to mention the numerous interesting conversations I had with other delegates. Yes it’s safe to say that the value of connecting with your peers is high and entirely justified the cost of the conference.

That aside there were also a couple of subtle themes that emerged during the sessions, the main one being that to enable us to work smarter, we need to push our involvement as far upstream as possible. Joe Welinske hinted at this as a way to make sure we are working on the highest priority items, and this view was further (obviously) expounded by user experience expert Leisa Reichelt. Considering that many of the technical communication questions and considerations that crop up are frequently answered by the stock response of “know your audience”, it was a timely reminder that by pushing ourselves towards the point where we can gather product influencing information about our audience we can start to make better decisions both about WHAT to write and HOW to write it.

Other thoughts, on a random basis:

  • Can we provide our online help in a single session browser (using something like Adobe AIR?).
  • Can we leverage the Web 2.0 ideas of commenting and voting on help topics?
  • Content is THE most important thing (sometimes it’s good to be reminded of this basic fact).
  • Choosing our single source solution quickly was the right thing to do, they all have flaws so we will find them and get round them sooner rather than later.
  • Can we look to web CMS to help provide a better set of technical information?
  • The first page the user lands on is crucial, break from the traditional model and create custom landing pages containing anything and everything that helps get them back on task.
  • Is the (stereotypical) persona of a technical writer actually stacked against driving change? Is that why so many of us are stuck following best practice? (I’m presuming best practice here to be a bad thing.
  • Jakob Nielsen was quoted 4 times by different speakers – do we really need any more evidence that we need to be user experience/usability minded when writing and structuring information?
  • If possible, define a variety of contexts within which the information can appear (version, product, country, etc) and use initial custom searches to provide a sensible landing page.
  • There are MANY lessons to be learned from websites, most of which have Information Architects and UX Designers, something we don’t typically have access to.
  • Users don’t care what kind of information they get as long as it answers their question.

Overall it was an excellent conference, and it was great to hear some of the things I’ve seen discussed in various blogs being brought to a larger audience. Definitely one to attend next year.

I’m not the only one that enjoyed the conference, Ellis rounds up his thoughts over at the Cherryleaf Blog.


  1. Gareth Williams said:

    Thanks Gordon for a very useful summing up of the Conference. I thought it was excellent too. See you next year perhaps?

    September 25, 2008

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