TCUK Day 3: Rants, web 2.0 & "Cracking Contraptions Gromit"
Click here to read the report from day 2 of the Technical Communications UK Conference.
All good things must come to an end, and so it was as we tearfully said our goodbyes at the end of another hugely enjoyable, tiring and stimulating conference. But before we did so, there was another fun packed day ahead. An intrepid group of six delegates met in reception at 7:30 for an early morning run. Quite impressive considering the rain at the late finish from the night before. Mind you the suggestion that we warm up before we left was broadly treated with disdain. The Lycra clad masses were put to shame though when one of the number said they had already done so by spending half and hour in the hotel gym!
My first session of the day was by Gordon Dennis who produces documentation for airplane pilots. Apart from scaring the life out of anyone who flies, he painted a picture that I couldn’t help admire. The logistics surrounding the documentation required to fly an Airbus or Jumbo 747 was something to behold. Cockpit space, a skeptical audience and reams of procedures are all factors in how the documentation is structured and delivered. An intriguing insight into a world we all take for granted.
Next up was Ankur Jain, Adobe RoboHelp‘s Product Manager, on interactivity and web 2.0 delivery in documentation. His presentation highlighted the enormous growth in the amount of available information which made it essential that we deliver ways of allowing our users to access it in a structured way. Astonishingly radio took about 35 years to reach an audience of 50 million. Twitter can do that in under one year and content is doubling every two weeks. As he put it, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” He
saw the development of the traditional Technical Writer role into one of a Content Curator, moving documentation from a “necessary evil to a strategic asset.” He highlighted how Adobe had used their AIRHelp output to provide content to not only product help but also blogs, white papers and other online content that was relevant. If you want to check this out, Adobe Photoshop was the first application to deliver this and can be found here. The products that form part of the Technical Communications Suite also use this format of help delivery and you can get to these from the menu on this blog. Whilst all of the talk generated a lot of interest there was a noticeable “wow” of appreciation around the room when he demonstrated the Fill Content Aware function inside PhotoShop that can remove an object and replace it with a seamless copy of what was behind it! It has to be seen to be really appreciated.
Next up was my own presentation on how my company, IDBS, had used the Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2.0 to move from a disparate group of documentation to one that delivered a fully integrated solution to a wide range of abilities and user types. I’ll leave it to others to say how it went.
After lunch it was time to get dirty. For the first time at a TCUK Conference we were given the opportunity to resort to type and rant like there was no tomorrow. And boy did we? I never knew there was so much angst out there. Whether it was use of controlled language, interfering Marketing departments or flat pack greenhouse instructions, each ranter gave it their all in a highly amusing and interactive manner. The apple cart was upset once or twice when an infidel delivered an e-learning rave instead and another delivered a “mini-rant” of their own in response, but other than that the session delivered exactly what it said on the tin.
Before long it was time for the final keynote session from J Haynes of Haynes Manuals fame. Celebrating their 50th year, it was an intriguing session on how Haynes had gone from writing a manual for (I think) a Peugeot 305 to ones on the Star Ship Enterprise, Spitfire aircraft and Wallace and Gromit. Cracking! Their model was simple. You had to take a car apart to enable you to understand exactly how something worked. Then armed with photographs and instructions you gave the user what they needed. I can’t help wondering how many men spend their weekends studying the fuel intake values of a Spitfire without ever having the likelihood of touching one.
Finally, I have a confession to make. It turns out there were baked beans at breakfast all along. They were in a large vat somewhat hidden at the end of the buffet. I discovered this when someone told me AFTER I had eaten my last breakfast! Now I must get back to trying to decipher that blasted greenhouse manual.