While I was in Missouri at a technical writing conference for teachers and students last weekend, I had an interesting conversation with a lady who happened to drop by from Canada. She had transitioned from tech comm to usability, and she explained an interesting parallel. I had just presented my “Anyone Can Write: Changing Roles for Technical Communicators” presentation to students, and she commented that many have the same assumption about usability: anyone can do usability. However, whereas tech comm is generally under-appreciated or ignored, usability is on a higher level of appreciation. Why the difference?
Here’s what my friend explained: project members see the usability deliverables, but they don’t see the tech comm deliverables. When the usability experts create wireframes or prototypes, the whole team meticulously reviews the designs. But when a technical communicator creates a 200 page user manual, a smooth-looking online help, some video tutorials and other deliverables, almost no one sees them except the person assigned to review them. As a result, people see and appreciate the usability specialist / interaction designer’s work, but they continue to undervalue the technical communicator’s work.