Why do Technical Authors only use two of the three qualities of good design?

Why do Technical Authors only use two of the three qualities of good design?

  • Vitruvius, the Roman architect, claimed a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas and venustas: it must be solid, useful and beautiful.
  • Paul Mijksenaar, a modern day Information Designer, turned these qualities into a practical three-point formula: Reliability, Utility and Satisfaction.

Though Mijksenaar did not design his device specifically to analyse information products, Anne-Florence Dujardin (of Sheffield Hallam University) argues you can use his gauge to rate and assess user documentation.

So why do Technical Authors often focus only on Reliability and Usefulness, and fail to take into account Satisfaction? Beauty is an emotional relationship with an object, so perhaps Technical Authors should be (a) measuring users’ satisfaction with what they produce and (b) creating more emotionally engaging documents.

How to you take into account users’ satisfaction with the information you publish?


Glenn Lea

Hi Ellis, actually, I find the satisfaction aspect the most important. This is why sometimes I have some reservations with DITA and other types of systems that force tech writers to disconnect content with layout. They just end up focusing on the writing and think the DTD and so on will do just fine for them. I have been able to turn lowly datasheets and user guides for ICs and rf modules into very pleasing documents, both visually and textually. It is because I am able to keep the design aspect closely matched to the content I am working with at any given time. I hope these DITA tools and related tools will not produce a generation of technical writers who cannot or care not to think about document design.

Irene Wong

1 There is an anthem about satisfaction and as technical communicators we should remember the next line of:
“…When I’m drivin’ in my car
And a man comes on the radio
He’s telling me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination…”
These words are so true “more and more… useless information.supposed to…” but doesn’t fire my imagination.

2 ISO 9241-11
Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals, Part 11: Guidance on usability
Extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use”
It goes on to define satisfaction as : “Freedom from discomfort, and positive attitudes towards the use of the product.”
ISO 9241-11 http://www.idemployee.id.tue.nl/g.w.m.rauterberg/lecturenotes/ISO9241part11.pdf

3 Jakob Nielsen in “Usability Engineering”

4“The role of usability and satisfaction in the consumer’s commitment to a financial services website”, Casolo, Flavian and Guinaliu, Int J Electronic Finance, Vol2, no1, 2008.

5 “What is this evasive beast we call user satisfaction?”, Lindgaard and Dudek, Interacting with Computers,15 (2003) 429-452

6 “Aesthetics, visual appeal, usability and user satisfaction: What do the eyes tell the user’s brain?” Lindgaard, Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, vol 5, no 1, 2007, pp1-4

Irene Wong

Sorry I was so cryptic.

I am of course referring to the Rolling Stones song. “I can’t get no satisfaction”

Steven Hart

‘Reliability, utility and satisfaction’ seem to echo Aristotle’s definition of the persuasive appeals: ethos (establishing character or personality), logos (appeals to logic) and pathos (appeals to emotion).

In my undergraduate dissertation I argued for the role of pathos, or emotional engagement, to be more widely appreciated and exploited by technical communicators.

I used examples from advertising to show how ‘plain’ information could be made more emotionally engaging and, as a result, more useful, without sacrificing clarity and utility.

I also pointed out that such a strategy requires creativity, which implies risk, because creativity necessarily involves exploring the unknown.

But software and hardware engineering companies, for example, aren’t really set up to manage creativity. Or, at least, they don’t want it from the tech pubs group.

Which might be a reason why we rely more on logos and, to a lesser extent, ethos (which is probably established in technical writing by templates and company style guides).

Luckily, I now work in an advertising agency.

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