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Technical writers are paying more attention to UI/UX because documentation is part of the user experience. Technical writers, who explain user interface elements and design how-to documents for user tasks and procedures, know when a design choice will have repercussions. We can recognize when a design choice is similar to one we've encountered previously and that we know will result in additional documentation to compensate.

Our experience in writing documents to explain odd, weird, and outside-expectation placements and behaviors gives us insight. We are part of the UX continuum:

UX [is] a continuum. This continuum begins with UX research and ends with UX/UI design. This may explain why there is some confusion regarding what educational background a UX professional should have, what role they should play on a design team, and what part of the design process they should “own.”

Ashley Karr

"UX Research vs UX Design", ACM IX Interactions (2013)

Technical writers who want to increase their value are learning from practitioners and researchers in the field of user experience and usability work. We know that by expanding our knowledge of related disciplines, learning more about Human Computer Interaction (HCI), can only help us help the other people involved* in designing the overarching user experience our companies project to our customers.

The Adobe Creative Cloud blog recently posted an article about buttons in UX design that gave not only a brief history of buttons but a brief discussion of modern button trends. It was full of examples that should be familiar (and fun to look at) for technical writers who want to learn more about UX design and the reasons and best practices on this one small topic: Buttons.

The key point from the article is to remember one thing: Buttons are functional. This means you should make sure the user can recognize a 'button' FAST and make it EASY for that user to understand what the button will do when they click it.

There are three keys to button design:

  1. Make it look like a button - size, shape, placement, hover/active states
  2. Pay attention to sizing - responsive design means users and different devices can resize your button; large enough to interact with while still being separately actionable
  3. Order - visual dominance, pairing, follow platform conventions so user expectations are consistent

Buttons are serious business and, ultimately, UX designers should design to ensure a smooth experience that outlasts trends.

If you want more, read the full article on Adobe's blog. The article includes a link to a Touch Template application that is used by UX folks for testing designs and a link to the MIT Touch study that underlies it all.

Plus, you'll get to enjoy pictures of buttons from the 1980s. I sure did.

As an aside...

Recently, I spoke with a hiring manager recently who was interviewing technical writers. The candidate, a senior technical writing professional with 15 years experience, was qualified for the technical writing position but when he told the hiring manager, a senior computer scientist with the same level of experience, that he wanted to move into UI/UX because techwriting gave him that credential, the hiring manager immediately ended the interview. The candidate had none of the academic credentials that HCI professionals with a computer science background have and none of the design strategy qualifications that an MBA would have. Technical writing is absolutely a part of the UX picture, but it is not enough to qualify you as a UI/UX professional in the eyes of the many other disciplined professionals around you. And, in fact, claiming it does can disqualify you faster than you can blink an eye.

Key Concepts:

usability and user experience

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