While I was unable to go to the STC Summit last year, I am looking forward to going to Anaheim this year to not only being a presenter at the STC Summit, but also to learn and connect with other technical communicators again!
I realized that one of the events I’ve always liked attending is the Adobe pre-conference event. They always have great information to share. However–what’s this? No Adobe Day this year? Nope. But wait…there’s something better.
That’s right! Saddle up, and gain some skills through this FREE Adobe Tech Comm Tools Workshop! This looks like a great event, cowboys and cowgirls! There are industry leaders leading the workshop, you earn a certificate for participating (which you can include on your resume, it’s that good), and lunch and snacks are included in the afternoon. And did I mention it’s free? Who says you can’t get a free lunch AND a free certificate? Evidently not Adobe!
Oh, did I also mention that even if you can’t attend to earn the certificate, you can still follow along on my Twitter feed found at @techcommgeekmom that day, as I’ll be tweeting highlights of the event for all who come to the Twitter corral!
Now, there are some caveats in registering, namely that you have to bring your laptop, and download the Adobe Tech Comm Suite Release 2015 Trial Version (if you don’t already have the full version). Other than that, it should be like riding into the sunset.
This is a great opportunity for those who would like to either get to know the Tech Comm Suite better, or brush up on some skills. Space is limited so you should register as soon as possible to get your seat on this great event!
I’ve recently taken on a new “adventure” working for a large pharmaceutical company. Now, I’ve worked for pharmaceutical companies before, but it’s been more than 20 years since my last job in the industry. One of the things I’ve been getting bombarded with in the past few weeks is that I have to do a lot of compliance training. This is not the first time I’ve had to do compliance training.
In the last two full-time positions I held, I had to do compliance training in the finance and chemical safety fields, even though my position had nothing to do with the everyday responsibilities of creating and handling chemicals, or handling financial transactions of any kind. But, because of strict regulatory rules on the international, federal, and state levels, I have to do this training. It’s the same with the pharmaceutical field, since that’s yet another highly regulated field.
Now, I will say this much–because of the work that I’ve been hired to do, there actually were several pieces of the compliance courses that applied to me, so that was fine. No matter where you go, especially if you work for a very large corporation, whether you are an employee or contingent worker/consultant (which I always am the latter), you still have to take all these compliance courses regardless of your position in the company to comply with all these regulatory groups. It’s just par for the course.
The information is usually incredibly dry, boring, and lifeless information–at least for me. It’s usually just a course that covers various policies, and you have to pass some sort of quiz to “certify” and help the company be in compliance with these regulatory rules. The courses are usually (but not always, as I’ll explain in a moment) a flat narrative that’s done in Captivate or Articulate, with small little quizzes in between to help you review and retain the information for the final test at the end. Considering that the information is usually so boring, and you may have several hours of it ahead, I usually don’t mind this training because usually there’s a narrator reading the information while showing some images relating to the topic, and it makes it easier for me to remember so I can pass the test.
After having already done four hours of compliance training and passing the test with a 97% (I missed one question) during my first week, I was given additional training that had to be done in the next few days. Of the nine courses I was given to do, only one was an Articulate course (I know it was because the server name in the URL said “articulate.com” in it), and that one made sense, and definitely applied to me.
However, the other eight courses I was given weren’t really courses at all. Since these “courses” were all handled on an LMS (learning management system), I thought I’d be jumping into legitimate courses. I was sadly mistaken. Each of these “courses” was simply the SOP (standard of procedure) policy document that I was expected to read in depth. All these documents were not written in plain English in a user-friendly format. They all were in legal-ese or pharma-talk–or both. This made the process of reading them a little harder for me to digest. Additionally, while there were only two or three documents that were less than ten pages, most were well over twenty pages–even over thirty pages for one or two of the documents. Some documents had a summary at the end, to which I thought, “Why didn’t they just show this at the beginning of the document? Then the rest of it would’ve made sense!” But most did not. With all of these eight documents, there wasn’t any kind of assessment to see if I understood the material. I just had to provide an electronic signature at the end that I read the material.
While I did my best to diligently read the material, it was much worse than dealing with the boring interactive courses. And other than me signing something electronically to say that I had, indeed, read the material, there was no way for the company to know if I understood it. Much of this could’ve easily been short Captivate/Articulate courses that would have not only made the information a tiny bit more interesting, but also there could be a way to assess that there was some semblance of comprehension.
Somewhere along the line, I had read later that in some instances, companies are in compliance as long as they have a policy and that each worker has read the policy and signed off that they read the policy. That sounds easy enough–read the material, and sign that you read it, and you’re done. But is that right?
I thought about this a lot after I finished this second round of compliance training, because reading almost 130 pages of technical jibberish on mostly common sense policies wore me out. I also felt that something was terribly wrong about this procedure. I might not have ended up doing instructional design as I originally set out to do when I started in tech comm (see early posts of TechCommGeekMom), but there were circumstances that bothered me about training employees this way, especially if they had to adhere to regulatory compliance training.
The first thing that came to my head was that as bothersome and boring as they were (sorry, instructional designers), the interactive courses were better. Students could see examples more clearly from images, for example. Or, in my case, seeing images, reading words, and hearing a voice read the technical gobbledygook connected with me better than reading pages and pages and pages of long-winded text. I partially blame my own abilities to learn this way because of my own learning disabilities, but at the same time–am I alone? I’m sure there are some out there who would rather read lots of text to understand information, but I have found that adding multimedia has always made a difference in learning.
I started to wonder if I was an anomaly in finding that I learn better this way. I know there are entire books, courses, and university degrees dedicated to this topic–what’s the best way to teach an adult? Is it any different than teaching a child or youth? Is reading text better than e-learning instances? Is reading text better than having an interactive, multimedia experience? In the case of the documents, I found that I was easily bored by the material to the point that I was more easily distracted, making me only skim the pages rather than read them in great detail after a while–especially with the thirty-page documents. It’s good that the company has policies on specific topics that are available for employees to read, but can employees easily relate to the policy information? How can we ensure that? Is just having them read the policy enough?
To say the least, I was rather disappointed with this method of training of reading text and electronically signing that I completed the reading. My own studies in e-learning made me realize how we are lucky to live in an age where we can make use of voice, images, video, and other multimedia tools that can help enhance the learning process, and in effect, allow learners to better retain the information by making it more relatable–even the boring, compliance information. I’ll bet that I still retain some of the information about financial transaction handling and chemical safety in the inner recesses of my brain because of interactive training. I remember much of what I just learned about drug safety and marketing compliance from my initial training. But what was in those documents. Don’t remember. Not a clue. I think much of it was the same as the stuff in the original compliance training, which also made me question why I had to do it again when I passed that original training. But was reading text and signing effective training? No. Did it fulfill compliance rules? Yes.
Whether it’s this company I’m at, or other companies, having workers understand regulatory compliance policies is important. They are procedures that keep us safe physically and ethically to ensure the best standards for all. So why not take the time to ensure that ALL policies that you feel are important are delivered in a way that helps to insure that employees understand ALL the information? That just seems like common sense to me.
What do you think? What are your experiences with these types of corporate or compliance training? What kind of learning worked best for you? Should companies put a good effort to make all the learning more learning-accessible? Add your comments below!
You might have heard by now that there have been some updates to the Adobe Technical Communications Suite (TCS) that were released today! Both Framemaker and Robohelp have been updated significantly, while the other programs (Captivate, Acrobat, and Presenter), have had some ongoing updates as well.
Adobe held two virtual press conferences in early May 2015 to let insiders learn about these latest and greatest releases for updating Framemaker and Robohelp. I’ll start with Framemaker in this post, and post about Robohelp in a post coming soon.
The biggest take-away that I took from the Framemaker press conference was that Adobe has worked to make the application more user-friendly so little or no coding is needed, even though access to code is still available, and that efforts are continuing to push forward to make more global and mobile outputs available.
The latest version of Framemaker will be titled Framemaker (FM) 2015. The reason for this is that way, all the versions within TCS will be in synch based on the year that the version was released. So, Robohelp (RH) and the other applications will also be known by the 2015 label for this release. It makes sense, and easier to track than version 10, 11, etc. for different products.
The presentation was given by Kapil Verma, who is the Group Marketing and Product Manager for the Adobe Tech Comm line of products.
Kapil reminded us that in the last four years, there have been a lot of advances in FM, including DITA support, multichannel publishing, mobile publishing, CMS connector API, multiview XML authoring, AEM connector, native multi-channel device publishing, FM XML author, MathML, Enhanced collaboration w/mobile and cloud based tech, and other productivity boosters. So, while a lot of upgrades and enhancements have happened in that short amount of time, further enhancements found in this update are sure to make technical writers rather happy.
What’s new in FM 2015? There are six main points that were given, and while Kapil did a “deep-dive” into each of these highlights, I’m going to be giving you the highlights of those points.
Framemaker 2015 will allow you to work faster and smarter with several core feature enhancements.
Working with tables is much easier and faster now. You can conditionalize columns and rows (formerly only on rows) now, and there are usability improvements to allow arrow keys to navigate cells, tab to insert rows, and drag-drop rows and columns. There are several new table styles available out of the box. When demonstrated it, looked REALLY easy, very clear, and highly flexible.
FM writers can now more easily work with conditional text–including applying it at the book level–due to visual indications of conditions applied on tables and graphic objects. Again, when Kapil demonstrated it, it was very clear where color coding was applied so the writer could more clearly see the associations of what conditional text applied in different areas, making it much easier to make appropriate changes and see the changes.
You can now generated a “mini” Table of Contents (TOC) in the middle of a document, simply by placing the TOC where you want, then easily modifying it and styling it the way you want!
Enhanced Word import provides more options and control, with the ability to map styles for paragraphs, characters and tables while retaining Word formatting for matched styles or inline Word formatting overrides.
Serve a global audience with new right to left language support.
Arabic and Hebrew are now included and supported in FM 2015! There is also leveraged support for Right-to-Left (RTL) languages and the ability to create bi-directional documents. This support for bi-directional content means that you can have both RTL and LTR (Left-to-Right) in the same document–you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can have just about any combination of languages in a document now!
New object direction properties for document and object such as paragraphs, tables, text flows etc. can be inherited from the direction imported from Word, whether it’s LTR, RTL, or both. You can leverage the direction inheritance model to enable 1-click flip of all objects.
You can publish your RTL content into multiple formats including Acrobat, HTML5, HTML, ePub, Kindle, iOS, Android, and Webhelp.
Publish for mobile devices–including mobile apps–natively.
FM 2015 has a brand new HTML5 layout with several enhancements, including topic descriptions and breadcrumbs, with the ability to show search results on the left panel for easier navigation. HTML5 layout comes with host of customization abilities including the easy “off/on” functions in which you can choose the component to customize, then view and customize the component properties in a visual/tabular format, allowing writers to achieve frameless outputs.
Writers will now be able to publish natively mobile apps using Framemaker that are iOS and Android supported, using PhoneGap:Build, which is an Adobe product. PhoneGap is available for a single app generation for free, while creating multiple apps requires a PhoneGap/CS subscription. The way it works is that once the app is created, it creates a QR code so that a user can scan and download the app, or save the info to your local drive. The content itself can be published to Google Store or iTunes.
Personalized content can be delivered dynamically to your end users.
Dynamic content filters are provided in the navigation for the end users to allow them what to see what they want to see. The creation of how to do this reminded me of how taxonomy tags are used in Adobe’s AEM to filter content for readers. This can be done by enabling the dynamic filter in the output, then creating and customizing with the conditional tags used in the content for the end user filter. The Dynamic Content Filter applies to all content, meaning the main content as well as TOC, topics, and search results. Existing tags can be re-used, based on existing conditional tags/expressions functionality.
Generate high fidelity ePub outputs by embedding your custom fonts.
XML authoring is easier now for SMEs/Contributors.
There was the realization that the current XML authoring workflow in FM 12 has been too complex for SMEs and other “casual contributors”, so a simplified XML authoring environment was created. This new XML Authoring environment is ideal for SMEs, Casual contributors, and even technical writers who are new to XML/DITA, as it was created for those who have not been exposed to XML, allowing them to work with common objects rather than elements that will always produce valid XML. The input for these users looks like a form, which is easier for most anyone to figure out. You can create a free form authoring form, or a guided authoring form where you ask for specific info. (This looked really good, because I could see some benefits for this for a project that I’ve been working on.) This simplified form-like environment allows the end user to enter various types of content quite easily, with a simplified menu and tool bar, an enhanced quick element toolbar which mimics many of the same features as an MS Word text editing toolbar. A DITA toolbar is also provided out of the box, as well as a BYOT (build your own toolbar) feature for your custom application.
MathML has been enhanced so you can easily do in-line MathML equations through MathFlow Editor, pick up paragraphs properties so that the equation merges well with the surrounding text, and high quality, searchable vector (EPS) output as opposed to raster (PNG) in FM12.
A new connector with DITA Exchange by Content Technologies will be shared natively with FM 2015. An enhanced FM-SharePoint connector with claim-based authentication support and support for SharePoint 2013 is also available.
Enjoy a rock solid product with improved usability and performance.
To improve usability and performance, Adobe addressed many bugs from its prior release of FM. In fact, more than 90 bugs were corrected in this release!
UI enhancements include the ability to resize dialogs (both TOC, Add/edit and show/hide conditions, x-ref, conref, link-ref), conditional text checkbox behavior mentioned above, and no grey areas when you reduce pod width.
Performance enhancements include EDD update performance improvements (same operation has been reduced from hours to minutes!), a smart pod refresh, the FM-Adobe Experience Manager connector has improved performance with multi-threading support), and contextual in-product tips as needed are now included.
As mentioned earlier, this will be part of TCS 2015, which will include the 2015 versions of Framemaker, RoboHelp, Captivate, Acrobat, and Presenter. Buying it as the Tech Comm Suite is a 57% discount from buying buying each of these separately, and you can use these in an end-to-end workflow, so it’s worth getting the entire package!
Pricing & Availability on June 2 (in USD):
Upgrade from last release
Upgrade from 2 releases
FM 12 :$399
FM 11: $599
English, French, German, and Japanese
FrameMaker 2015 XML Author
English, French, German, Japanese
FrameMaker 2015 Publishing Server
FMPS 12: $5999
FMPS 11: $8999
RH 11: $399
RH 10: $599
English, French, German, Japanese
Technical Communications Suite 2015
TCS 4, 3, 2 or 1: $1199
English, French, German, Japanese
Overall, as the main foundation product of Technical Communications Suite, Framemaker 2015 looks to be a significant update that will help provide technical writers with the user-friendly, flexible tools needed to truly create the best content possible for their end-users that serve their ever-growing global and mobile needs.
Oh, and there’s a FREE webinar on June 16th, 2015 to launch the product. If you would like to attend that, register on the Adobe Online Event site. The event runs from 11:00 AM-1:00 PM Eastern Time.
As of TODAY, Adobe is releasing five new tools for technical communication professionals everywhere! Technical Communication Suite 5.0 (TCS5), FrameMaker 12 (FM12), FrameMaker XML Author 12 (FMXA 12) and RoboHelp 11 (RH11), and FrameMaker Publishing Server 12 (FMPS12) are now available.It’s been about eighteen months or so since the last big Adobe tech comm release, so you can imagine there are some new and enhanced features included.
I was privileged to be among a group of tech comm professionals who were invited to get a preview of the products before their release, and I have to say, there were so many new and improved features that it was difficult to squeeze all the information into one press conference! But I’m going to give you the highlights, and I’m sure you’re going to find that there’s something new for you.
In the last release of TCS, namely TCS4, there were several big overhauls of the product, namely that the Technical Communications Suite concentrated on providing tools that supported structured authoring, integrated interactive content, and could support the creation of content for mobile devices while providing searchable, personalized, socially enabled content in a way that would yield bigger results with less resources. It was a major step to enhance these tools, especially in regards to adding mobile and interactive abilities to content. Adobe has continued to build on those major changes with the new features in version 5.0.
The foundation of the Tech Comm Suite has always been FrameMaker and RoboHelp. With the release of TCS5, FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11 have been released with big enhancements that appear to concentrate on making these tools more user-friendly and efficient for the technical writers using them.
For FM12, the first obvious enhancement is the interface. Adobe has improved the user interface to include colored icons and larger icons that look cleaner and sharper in HD. If you like things “old school” in the original smaller, monochromatic colors, that choice is still available as well. There is also more flexibility in customizing your interface. A new “pod” allows the user to access all the currently opened files in one place, from which you can save and close multiple files at one time, while still viewing the unsaved files. There are also enhanced abilities to drag-and-drop to empty areas of the interface, close pods or panels more easily, double-click on empty areas to minimize or expand pods, and searching capabilities have been expanded. These seem like minor details, but when using a product as often as many technical writers use FrameMaker, these finer details can make a big difference! FM12 includes three samples of unstructured content and one DITA-based content sample with the product.
FM12 is not all about a new façade. Adobe has enriched the authoring process with new capabilities. The first thing that caught my attention is that FM12 can generate QR codes now! They can be created for URLs, SMS texts, emails, or to initiate phone calls. QR codes are taking over these days, so it’s great that these can be both created and integrated into FM documentation. Background color enhancements allow uniform height background color and options to specify paragraph boxes. The addition of a new customer-requested feature is the support regular expression coding.
Single-sourcing has been a hot topic in the last few years, and this has been addressed with new enhancements. FM12 gives users a new way to work with conditional text, by using a new conditional tag pod which provides check-box mechanisms with multiple conditions to allow the user to do more complex filtering with conditional text enhancements. It truly simplifies the entire process, that even a newbie should be able to figure it out easily.
Productivity enhancements have also been included in FM12. A searchable smart catalog function allows the user to filter choices based on the valid choices available and phrase typed by the user, while the user can continue to use the keyboard shortcuts as before. There is also a new capability to open all files from the user’s last session in one click, including the last documents and pages in focus, workspaces such as pods, panels and palettes, among others.
Adobe has also taken care to add great collaboration enhancements in FrameMaker. Native connections to any webdev content management system (CMS), such as Documentum, SharePoint, and Adobe CQ are available. Users can now view entire CMS tree layouts, and can access several key CMS functions, such as checking out documents, editing documents, and searching within document, all from FM12. PDF review commenting has been made more flexible. The most proactive steps towards subject matter expert (SME) reviews is that reviews can be done on PDF reader apps on mobile devices, and can also be used on those same devices using cloud technology such as Dropbox for both internal and external reviewers. As mobile devices become more commonplace replacing desktops and laptops, this is a great step forward!
Publishing abilities have gotten a boost on FrameMaker as well. It used to be that if you wanted to create certain types of digital output, such a ePUBs, for FrameMaker content, you would have to export it to RoboHelp, and have RoboHelp publish the document. Now, that step is no longer needed for PDFs, Webhelp, ePUBs, Kindle docs, Microsoft HTML Help, responsive HTML5, or Web help! That’s a big deal, as it allows FM12 to be more efficient by skipping that step of exporting and publishing in RoboHelp. Publishing can also be done through the Web now, too, for multiple users using a FrameMaker server, allowing multiple users to publish simultaneously and automatically to multiple channels and devices. That’s a practical efficiency improvement right there!
With this release, Adobe is introducing a new FrameMaker product for those who don’t need the full version of FM12, but are mostly concerned in having a tool to do structured XML authoring. FrameMaker XML Author is a tool that has been created especially for the structured XML market. Those wanting to use unstructured content will still need to use the full FM12 version. The XML Author is fully standards-compliant for content creation, and supports the most popular XML technology for single-sourcing. It is not FM12 “lite”, but it is a streamlined, easy-to-use version that supports structured authoring without the bulk of the FM12 features that aren’t needed for structured content, yet still integrate-able with the full version of FM12 and available at a lower price. I’m sure that having this tool will be highly beneficial to many companies who are looking for a way to cut costs (it is priced at 40% the price of FM12 “full”) while still reaping the benefits of having a powerful XML authoring tool.
Another customer request that has been granted by Adobe is the integration of MathML, to allow MathML equations to be imported, created, edited, and published with FrameMaker. Adobe is even including 30-day trials of MathFlow (MathML editor from Design Science) with the shipment of FM12 for those who are interested in trying it out. There are several other features that are also included, along with 55 bug fixes, improved performance and launch time for FrameMaker, but I’d end up writing a book at this point!
Of course, with all these big changes to FrameMaker, we can’t forget RoboHelp 11, which also has had a big overhaul.
RH11, like FM12, has a new UI look as well. Based on customer feedback, RH11 has a new color scheme and a more modern interface that looks more pleasing to the eye. It’s a step in the right direction. Adobe has said that further UI improvements are in the works, but this current new UI is the first step in a long overdue makeover for the interface.
The more important feature enhancements with this new release of RoboHelp include advances with HTML5 publishing, printed document enhancements, and collaboration and single-sourcing enhancements.
The HTML5 publishing enhancements are from the perspective that mobile publishing is central, so new single responsive layouts for all devices are available “right out of the box” when downloading RH11. This new single layout feature will work seamlessly across all devices, can be easily customized, will allow for real-time previewing based on the browser size, and can be published with one click. There is a new wizard-based layout editor available to help with this process that shows the added responsive HTML5 output options. You can also preview layouts, and the customization is great because no coding in CSS needs to be done, as you can use the editor instead. To me, this is true single-sourcing creation at its best while simplifying the process! This is a big deal!
Printed documents have not been ignored. Users can now customize headers and footers of printed documents by defining them in the master pages. Headers and footers can also be imported from Word. There is also the ability to specify different headers and footers for the cover, and even and odd pages for different sections of a document. This is great for consistency within branded documentation.
In terms of collaboration and single-source improvements, cloud integration and topic sharing for SMEs has now been included. RH11 now includes a Resource Manager tool that synchronizes folders using Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft SkyDrive as shared locations, and includes filtering for specific folders. This allows the user to manage linked resources within files used in real time across projects and geography.
The Technical Communication Suite 5.0 includes FrameMaker 12 and RoboHelp 11, but it also includes the updated products of Acrobat Pro XI, Captivate 7, and Presenter 9 to complete the Suite. You will notice that Illustrator, which was included in the TCS4 version, is not included. This was a step, Adobe said, to help lower the price. Additionally, from the way I see it, it makes sense, because both Illustrator and Photoshop–another product that used to be included in prior TCS versions–are now affordably available as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. I know that I personally have a CC subscription, and I’m guessing that many active technical communicators do too, so this saves us from spending twice for the same product, which makes a lot of sense. TCS5, FM12, RH11, FM XML Author, and the FMPS12 will also be available both as a subscription and through perpetual license as well. There is separate pricing for the FM XML Author and FM Publishing Server software.
The updates made to FrameMaker and RoboHelp are extensive, as there are many more features, but I think you get the idea. Adobe is taking steps to try to stay on top of technological changes that have taken root in the past couple of years, such as mobile and cloud technology, and is working to continue to make a more robust and user-friendly products for technical communicators.
My recommendation is that if you are looking to try TCS5 or any of the TC products out, or are interested in upgrading your current TCS package or individual products, click on the Adobe advertisement in the upper right corner of this page, or visit Adobe’s TCS product page for more information.
When I first read the title of John Daigle’s Adobe Day presentation, “Enjoying a Smooth Ride on the Mobile Documentation Highway,” guitar riffs by Steppenwolf echoed in my mind thinking of the song, “Born to Be Wild” and scenes of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding down the information highway. OK, maybe not the information highway, but with mobile, it’s an open road right now that is waiting to be explored.
While I hadn’t heard John speak before, I was familiar with his “rock star” status due to social media–mostly through Twitter (you can find him as @hypertexas)–in my e-learning and m-learning forums. It turns out that John is a big RoboHelp and Captivate expert, so being tied into the mobile highway scene makes sense!
The premise of John’s talk was that there are shifts and trends in mobile, and we need to look at organizations as early adopters, figure out the mobile landscape, and look at how user assistance is used on mobile as compared to how reference documentation is used generally. He pointed out that writing and designing for a mobile audience is very different from traditional methods (I agree!), and that he would be offering some hints on how to approach technical communications for mobile.
John pointed out that fellow speaker, panelist Joe Welinske, created the “bible” for Windows Help, and now has created the “bible” for mobile apps, referring to Joe’s book, Developing User Assistance for Mobile Apps, which talks about the “screen wars” between the smartphones and tablets of various size. These various sizes produce a challenge for technical communicators. John went on to point out that e-readers, such as Kindle and Nook, are still alive and well and doing well as compared to other tablets such as iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs. The initial conversion of print text to Kindle ePubs was a big change in electronic documentation. He also stated that at this stage of the game, Windows Surface and Windows Phone are a little late in the game, but they are catching up rapidly.
Following some of the comments of keynote speaker, Charles Corfield (the post on that talk is forthcoming!), John explained that other products including voice-activated devices, such as those found in some cars these days, are becoming more prolific. Google Glass, which is getting a lot of press right now, is a new game changer in mobile devices, and time will tell what kind of impact it will have.
John told us that as of February 2013, there were one billion smartphones and 150 million tablets worldwide–proof that mobile is becoming more widespread! Corporations are even getting more involved in mobile by buying mobile devices for employees, but many companies are also allowing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Companies are starting to embrace the idea of BYOD a little more lately.
Finance and healthcare industries are quickly adopting mobile delivery of information because of the portability of the devices. Mobile devices are being used more in industry and shop floors because they allow users access anytime, anywhere. John informed us that many of the same technical communications skills and experiences needed to write standard information apply to mobile. QR codes are gaining popularity as a part of the movement of accessing documentation through mobile. John quoted Jakob Nielsen saying, “Killing time is the killer app of mobile.” With that in mind, John advised that technical communicators should learn to use more economic words for mobile, such as “extra” instead of “additional.”
John also quoted John Caroll, who said, “Minimize the extent to which the systems and the information get in the way of what the user’s really interested in.” Progressive disclosure is key in writing for mobile. It allows one to gain information by revealing what’s needed when it’s needed. Ways to show this in mobile interfaces could be drop-down navigation or overlays. This allows a user to not leave the page, but he or she can still get to information quickly. In this sense, mobile can go right to the source or the heart of information needed.
So the question is, are huge documents (such as what’s in those big company binders) going mobile too? The answer is that technical writers can’t just dump desktop layouts and information onto mobile. This is where technical communicators need to work with developers to do what they do best–help “champion the end users.”
Going mobile is about flattening navigation–but not going button crazy, and getting back to context sensitive help. Technical communicators need to tap into social media to keep content current and accurate, thus becoming curators of user generated content.
It helps to prototype mobile layouts with rapid wire-framing tools, like Balsamic Mock-ups as a popular example. There are many specific tools on the market that are available to assist the developer in facilitate context-sensitive help.
However, there are several design controversies involving the need to upgrade browsers, progressive enhancement, adaptive design and responsive design. Some argue that responsive design is not the best because it makes a device’s CPU works harder, thus it becomes a virtual memory hog when resizing images as needed. Yet, responsive web design can adapt layouts to the appropriate viewing environment with fluid, proportion-based grids.
John suggested using the site, http://HTML5test.com , to help test how compatible your site is with mobile interfaces. He also pointed out that help-authoring tools can do much of the work with single source layout concepts, as different settings in authoring tools can help determine how to make user outputs work properly. Another such tool he recommended was Adobe Edge, as it helps writers to preview and inspect web designs on mobile devices directly ON the devices. For additional tools and information, John pointed us to his website, http://www.showmethedemo.com .
I particularly enjoyed John’s talk, as I’ve been following many of his posts on Twitter for more than a year now. He’s very good at explaining the power of mobile in technical communication, and I think John put this perspective well into view for the Adobe Day attendees. As many know, I’m a big believer in the power of mobile, and the mind-set for writing for mobile isn’t that difficult if you understand the basics. So, it’s good that Adobe continues to include information about technical communications in the mobile world, as that’s where a lot of change is coming in the future. Adobe made a good choice when asking John Daigle to present information about mobile documentation.
John, if you are reading this, please feel free to add any comments or corrections in the comments! 🙂