It was interesting to read this book, coming from so many theory-heavy texts and into the realm of "practice." I was especially intrigued by the ways in which the audience, presumably Technical Writing Majors, influenced the language, structure, and even the overall topic of these essays. It seemed almost like these essays were playing it coy with the theories of user-centered design and cultural criticism that informed the authors' other, scholarly works - like they were trying to slip their messages in with the cheese (thanks Lori-Beth!).
While reading the articles in the first section, I found myself thinking a great deal about infographics and infographic videos. Like the articles, these texts are designed for a "non-expert" or user-oriented audience (if you consider the textbook itself a meaning-making, user-centered technology, the connection only becomes stronger.
William Hart Davidson writes that "Technical communication is more than just writing. Technical communicators make videos, diagrams, websites, and many other types of information resources" (Kindle Location 985). He later writes that "coordination is merely the means by which technical communicators work. Transformation is the end goal. Making something new and adding value are the hallmarks of distributed work in technical communication" (1045). An important task for the technical writer is not merely to explain things or make them usable, but to bridge the gap between a user of technology and a complex (or specialized) device in a way that is useful. This can include using a variety of skills and modalities to remediate important, sometimes complex messages in understandable and more importantly, useful, terms. Like so:
|Taken from Twistedsifter.com|
Similarly, Jim Henry writes that "One key element in interpreting artifacts is to ask yourself not only what an artifact says...but also how it functions within and beyond the workplace culture" (1737) and according to Longo and Fountain, "Technical communicators...use documents to order knowledge, shape information, and make implicit and explicit arguments about what is to be valued" (3312). Additionally, technical communicators cannot be overly specialized. Since communication between (and considering the needs of) users is paramount to User-Centered technology, a technical writer must be a jack of all trades, drawing from and working with multiple different disciplines and knowledge communities. It seems to me like this also applies to the sciences, since so many science writers have been taking pains to communicate complex or specialized concepts to a wider audience. This can also have important ties to modern politics and economics, like so:
|Taken from haveyouheard.it|
Though two of the three examples I gave are humorous, I do think that these show a trajectory for technical writing that makes use of multi-modal, collaborative, and user-centered methodologies. Presenting complex or disciplinary information to people using a variety of modalities seems, at a glance, to open up understanding which can lead to critical engagement.
Still, I worry about some long term implications of infograph-mania. Many of the articles describe learning methods and workplace behaviors that, while pragmatic, do venture into some of the frightening bleed-through between work and life posited in the previous book, or demand professional/skill development that may be out of reach for lower income or non-traditional students. For instance, Cook et. al. endorse developing creative, technical, and workplace skills in your spare time, and argue (rightly) that "Internships, whether paid or unpaid, give you the opportunity to learn from practitioners and allow you to take the basic skills you learn in your courses and apply them in specific workplace settings" (2139). How is a student struggling through a non-traditional education supposed to not only develop visual, rhetorical, and technical skills, but to join them together creatively? How are shy or introverted students going to build teams of experts in different fields? Can technology be user-centered AND designer centered? Or is that even our place to explore?