Workshop Review: UX Methods for Technical Writers

Rebecca Cox’s UX Methods for Technical Writers workshop (Monday 24th July, Quality Hotel, Parnell, Auckland) promised to take you deeper into the area of User-Centred Design (UCD) where you’d learn methods to help you align your documentation to your users’ needs. Did it deliver?

About the presenter

Rebecca’s skills lie in user research and usability testing for websites with a focus on uncovering inadvertent usability problems. She is passionate about enhancing users’ experiences and openly shared examples from her working background to highlight points throughout the day. The same methods she uses for websites can be applied not just to technical documentation but various other forms of media we use to communicate with our users.

About the workshop

The workshop began by looking at what UX is and what is required to enhance a user’s experience.  This was not just in our documentation, but also in ourselves and the skills we need.

From there we looked at different scenarios to use as the basis of our investigations throughout the day. As the number attending the workshop was small we worked on these individually instead of in groups, allowing us to choose a topic that we could easily relate to.

The remainder of the morning was spent applying the core methods of testing User-Centred Design (UCD) to our chosen scenario. This involved using tools provided by Optimal Workshop to:

  • create and conduct surveys and interviews;
  • identify how users understand and categorize information; and
  • test if users can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

After lunch we prepared and carried out an in-person test session for our scenario. This involved setting tasks designed to test usability or comprehension. We asked our participant to complete a task with the items to hand and encouraged them to ‘think aloud’ in order to follow their thought process. This method very effectively highlighted usability issues and pain points. It allowed insight into what our users really think about the structure and content of the media used to deliver technical communication.

Following each test of our scenario we recorded the results and our findings. We reflected on each session, what we learnt and how we could improve it for next time.

To finish we looked at other analytical tools for investigating UX and analysed the results of our surveys, interviews, in-person tests, and other testing methods used throughout the day.

About my experience

Following Rebecca’s introductory webinar I was eager to learn more from her, about website design in particular. This was my main reason for attending the Auckland workshop however I was also interested to see how her techniques could be applied to written documentation.

My focus for the day was on website design so it was easy to see how the tools we were introduced to could help. They are on-line tools and are intended to help make design decisions for websites. Card sort, Chalkmark, and Treejack are all now part of my toolset which will be called into action in the near future when I begin the redesign of our company website. At the same time I could also see how these tools can be applied to testing the usability of on-screen help, knowledge bases, and even written docs if you have an on-line version.

As technical communicators it is vital to know and understand our user’s needs. Sometimes it can be difficult to know if the material we are producing is giving our users the best experience possible. Using the methods demonstrated by Rebecca in her workshop is definitely an effective way of finding out, from the users directly, if our communication is exemplary. If you’ve ever wondered if the way you’re delivering your message really is the best way, then using Rebecca’s methods would definitely give you an answer.

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