Reaching outside the UX tribe at STC’s Technical Communication Summit

In Transcending Our Tribe, my closing plenary at this year’s Information Architecture Summit, I asserted that in order for the field of user experience to survive, we need to stop spending so much time looking inwards, and start reaching out to the larger business and technical communities.

Because I’m a big fan of practicing what I preach, I’ve been taking steps to work my way into the communities of other tangentially related fields in order to educate about user experience and its value to organizations worldwide — and more significantly, to humanity.

Last year, I gave my DIY UX presentation at An Event Apart in Boston (June 2009) and Chicago (October 2009), a conference that attracts a wide variety of web professionals, mainly visual designers and front-end developers. In November, I gave the same presentation at InterLab at the Brookhaven National Laboratory to a room full of web professionals throughout the U.S. Department of Energy complex.

A week ago I got to take it one step further. I was invited to present at STC‘s 57th annual Technical Communication Summit. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) was named in 1971, but it had really started in another incarnation all the way back in 1953. The largest organization of its kind in the world, STC’s membership includes technical writers and editors, content developers, documentation specialists, technical illustrators, instructional designers, translators, and other professionals in a technical communication capacity.

I met Alan Houser at the IDEA Conference in Toronto last September, and he invited me to speak at STC Summit ’10 (he’s one of the conference organizers, so he has some pull). By going outside of his tribe, he aimed to bring fresh voices into the conference and community. I had vaguely heard of STC, but I didn’t know much. After a bit of research to determine the appropriate content, I proposed both my 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design and Evangelizing Yourself presentations — and both were accepted.

A week ago today I gave both presentations in the same day. They’re very different talks — one is a primer on user experience, and the other is a pep talk on professional development. But it was such a pleasure to share both messages with a brand new audience with a distinctly different perspective from the crew that I usually hang out with. Best of all was just how relevant the message still seemed to be.

The field of technical communication is at a pivotal moment, not unlike to what user experience is currently facing. I was amazed at the parallels between the two communities, their organizations and conferences, growing pains and factions. The reality is that our work is so interconnected, it’s a wonder we aren’t better integrated under a single heading. Quite frankly, technical communicators ARE user experience designers; their deliverables contribute to the overall experience that a user has with a product, often in the most crucial times to get it right — when they need help.

Learning from this new community, getting a peek into what happens to an organization that has existed for so many years, coming to a better understanding of these practitioners’ goals and attitudes and motivations, well it really helped me to see the bigger picture in which user experience is operating, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Thank you to Alan for reaching out and bringing me in. Thank you to Twitter friends Rachel Peters, Will Sansbury, Keith Anderson, Chris Hester, Alyssa Fox, and many others who straddle between the worlds of tech comm and UX, and made me feel completely at home.

And a special thanks to the old guard, the senior members who don’t use Twitter and who will never read this blog. We new guard folks may poke fun at you from time to time, for your out-of-date methods and analog modes of communication, but if it weren’t for you we wouldn’t even be here. Thank you for blazing the trail, making a name for us, and teaching us much of what we know — even if we’ll spend the rest of our careers trying to discredit it. Much love!

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  1. tomjohnson1492 says

    Whitney, I'm glad you presented at the conference. It was refreshing to hear a perspective of someone outside the tech comm field. I'm still reflecting on a couple of points you made in the Evangelizing Yourself presentation. Also, thanks for letting me interview you.

  2. says

    Whitney, it's very serendipitous that you touched base with the world of technical communication.

    A friend of mine is at a cross-roads in her professional career; having formerly worked as a tech writer, she's presently surveying her options. When I mentioned that what she's seeing is indicative of inhabiting a nascent community, it reminded me of we've gone through with watching user experience evolve.

    Obviously, I'll show her this post; but I just felt compelled to say thanks.

  3. says

    Catching up on my reading and saw your post. Thanks again for coming to the Summit. It was great to finally meet you in person, and your Evangelizing Yourself presentation was great. Hope our paths cross again soon!

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