Whose profession is it anyway?

XII.3 May + June 2005
Page: 37
Digital Citation

STC and user experience

Fred Sampson

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Long ago, technical writing consisted of secretaries transcribing and typing the scribbled notes of engineers who designed hardware and software. Those days are, thankfully, long gone. Technical writing is now the domain of professionals who are experts in the many facets of technical communication, with a wide range of experience and education.

Today, the skills of technical communicators involve much more than interviewing and writing. Technical communicators now practice user-centered documentation design, develop user personas and scenarios, test prototypes, and work cooperatively with professionals in human factors, user experience design, usability, and graphic design to create usable products. We focus on providing users with the information that they need, where and when they need it.

For over 50 years, the Society for Technical Communication (STC) has represented and provided leadership and training to technical communicators. It is our goal to ensure that the users of the products about which we provide information are successful in meeting their goals, and we recognize that we can achieve that vision only in partnership with other user experience professionals. STC is committed to helping its members add value to products.

STC cultivates and maintains relationships with professional and academic organizations in the user experience community, and its members actively participate in cross-organizational activities and work on cross-functional teams. STC's members, geographic communities, and virtual communities actively support and involve themselves in other organizations' conferences. For instance, STC was a cooperating society for the inaugural Designing for User Experiences conference (DUX2003), and the Silicon Valley chapter provides representation in BayDUX, the San Francisco Bay Area branch of UXnet, which promotes and organizes cross-organization events.

Many STC members maintain memberships in related organizations, such as the Usability Professionals' Association (UPA), the Information Architecture Institute (AIfIA), ACM's SIG for the Design of Communication (SIGDOC), and ACM's SIG for Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), among others. Through these memberships, there is a constant cross-pollination and transfer of ideas, techniques, and tools that energizes our meetings, conferences, and publications. STC members recognize that their future depends on expanding their skill sets to include user experience capabilities.

STC members include professionals working in many different industries, who have a wide range of titles and roles: technical writer, technical communicator, information developer, technical editor, illustrator, information designer, information architect, and usability professional. Our roles continue to expand as our employers demand more value from their employees. It is no longer enough just to write well; we have to demonstrate that customers find value in our contributions.

Janice (Ginny) Redish is a well-known and respected author and teacher, focusing on usability, and a fellow of STC who was instrumental in the creation and growth of one of STC's most popular SIGs, the Usability and User Experience (UUX) Community. Says Ginny, "Technical communicators have always focused on audiences (on users) and on what users do (on users' realities and users' tasks). They are naturally inclined to be usability specialists... Communication is critical to all aspects of creating a successful user experience: from communication within the team creating the product to the words in the product itself... One of the great values of STC to me is that, as I have expanded my expertise and my work—from documents to software to Web, from writing to usability to user experience—STC has grown with me, welcoming these new topics and welcoming people who can help foster cross-disciplinary knowledge within the community."

Whitney Quesenbery is a user interface designer and usability specialist, current president of UPA, longtime STC member, and founder of our UUX Community. She says, "User experience is ultimately about communication.... The effective use of language to make the interface easier to understand is a critical factor for success in today's Web and application design. Technical communication is an important skill for improving the usability of the electronic tools that surround us at work, home, and play."

STC communities and members are working hard to maintain and cultivate relationships in the user experience community. It is our goal to ensure that our customers—clients, employers, users—are successful in meeting their goals, and we recognize that we can achieve that vision only in partnership with other user experience practitioners.

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Fred Sampson

About the Author:

Fred Sampson is a senior member of STC and past president of STC's Silicon Valley chapter, www.stc-siliconvalley.org. He is co-chair of BayDUX, www.baydux.org, and a member of SIGCHI. Fred works as an information developer for IBM's Information Management User Technology group. Contact him at wfreds@acm.org.

back to top  Sidebar: Society for Technical Communication


Founded in the U.S., STC is an international organization, with geographic communities in many countries, virtual communities with members from around the world, and annual international and regional conferences. STC recognizes that the way we communicate as an organization and the way our members congregate in communities has changed over the past decade, and the society is transforming to meet that change. STC publishes a research journal and a monthly magazine, which includes many articles that focus on user experience.

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