Two New Tools I'm Learning
Sometimes I can hardly believe I've gotten along for so many years as a technical communicator without a thorough understanding of Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Flash. They seem critical to technical communication.
With vector images (which Illustrator allows you to create), your images in quick reference guides will look sharp and crisp. The more quick reference guides I create, the more I realize how necessary images and diagrams are in giving the guides appeal. A good image makes or breaks the quick reference guide. If your image is pixilated or fuzzy, it lowers the value of your deliverable.
With vector images that you create through Illustrator, you don't have to worry so much about size, because vectors scale without losing quality. You can also insert them as linked images in InDesign without having to export them to another format (such as JPG, PNG, or GIF). As linked images, you can continue to tweak and adjust the originals by dragging points. The images are versatile and can be easily updated based on different needs.
The main reason I'm learning Illustrator is simply that illustrations are powerful in technical instructions -- it's one of the most helpful skills you can develop. People may not read help, but they certainly stare at the visual images in help content. If you can master a tool that allows you to create sharp looking images demonstrating conceptual topics, your content will be engaging and visually attractive.
Video tutorials are also an important learning tool for understanding software. It amazes me how many technical communicators simply omit video. When I want to learn software, I prefer video tutorials over written instruction, so it's natural that I see video as an essential deliverable. In fact, even outside of software, videos are helpful. When I recarpeted my daughter's bedroom, I knew I needed a kicker to stretch the carpet, but I had no idea how to use it. A few Bob Vila videos clarified everything.
While Camtasia Studio is great for recording the screen, video tutorials that consist only of screen recording will tire readers. Often video tutorials have some conceptual information to relay to readers. This conceptual information is best illustrated through diagrams and other visuals -- which you can create in Illustrator or other graphics tools (see my colleague's post about this strategy). But Camtasia can only handle these images as static images -- which is why I want to learn Flash, so I can create some animation and then pull the animated images into the Camtasia Studio timeline.
I don't want to create anything super dynamic, just a bit of motion. As I've written about previously, I love the Michael Pick videos on WordPress.tv. Flash is the tool that will help me give my video tutorials a bit more life and movement.
The way I see it, both Illustrator and Flash can work powerfully together. I know I could spend a lifetime learning either of these tools, but hopefully little by little I'll master what I need.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.