IA and TechComm at EUROIA14

Continuing my flashback notes, after Brighton and Bucharest, let me take you to the third B-named city I had visited within a month: Brussels. I finally managed to attend EUROIA, the Information Architecture conference in Europe last September. They closed the 10-year loop back in Brussels and I joined just in time to celebrate and received a cool anniversary T-shirt.

This was quite a change from the usual techcomm conferences. In my “scrapcloud” attempt I mentioned only a few of the terms that stuck with me from EUROIA14, but it was so much more. It took me to the… “liminal”-zone 🙂

EUROIA14 scrapcloud

We were shown the artistic side of information architecture through presentations about design, architecture, innovation, anthropology and psychology. But in the same time, workshops and presentations confirmed that info architects and user experience designers are facing similar challenges technical communicators do. Lots of familiar images: spreadsheets for content auditing, models to sort, chunk and reuse information. One page per thing was an often mentioned rule, as well as MRUs (minimum reusable units). Ontologies and linking are of course vital, since they are the very mechanism that keeps the web running. Does CORE model sound familiar to tech writers yet? It should: Create Once, Reuse Everywhere. And the statement that probably got just as much ovation and Twitter coverage as the marriage proposal in the end, was the reminder that Content is f*** King!

What also seemed a déjà vu, was the effort of info architects to establish their role and responsibilities within companies and workflows. we are all in the center

After seeing in various projects and books those diagrams with all team members or skills in their little circles, all pointing to the project manager (call it scrum master if you will) in the center, then seeing the same in slides trying to define the technical writers’ job and how they should position themselves and communicate with all other roles in their projects… it was the IA and UX designers’ turn to flip the charts.

Good to know we’re not alone and interesting to see we are trying to connect with the same roles in our projects: managers, developers, engineers, testers, etc.

Can hardly wait for the next EUROIA and I hope to see some more conferences adopting their agenda model:  workshops every morning, presentations and lightning talks in the afternoon, dozens of books to give away each evening.

Have you planned for content rebranding?

As a tech writer, you get used to a number of changes along the years, like migration to new standards and tools, company and product renaming, rebranding, merger and takeover, localising for a new language or region. Such changes affect the entire organisation. The decision comes from above and it is seen as a top-down process, so unfortunatelly not all departments get a share of the attention.

Usually, a new styleguide is announced, along with launching a new website, mission statement and promotional materials. When it finally comes, you browse through the new guide, eager to see what the new image and vision of the company is, and how this change is going to apply to your work. Alas, the new guide mostly contains instructions for Sales, Marketing and Web.

I have so rarely seen a plan to identify and analyse the content across an organisation, before a rebranding and renaming endeavor takes place. Only after the new look has been decided and dictated, teams such as Support and Documentation are asked to commit to a deadline for making the changes in their content. The fact that the products themselves (meaning Development and Localisation) would also need to plan some changes, often comes as a surprise too, and they have to start hunting for the sources of phantom bannners and messages in the last minute.

Some companies are fortunate enough to have conscientious teams, who try to prepare ahead when hearing about big changes. They think of their content inventory and determine which parts of it would actually need to be updated, translated or restyled, thus even saving their company some time and money. They would be ready to commit to the change and all they’d need would be the new styleguide.

The surprise is, even after asking to make sure the guide would contain the styling needed by the Documentation and other teams, you wouldn’t find anything more in it, than the specifications for the logo, new colour scheme and maybe some PDF cover samples. Everything else is for marketing materials, website, MS Word and PowerPoint templates.

How about the styles and layout of the Knowledge Base, FAQ portal, Manuals or User Guides, Help files, Data Sheets and Specifications, API Reference, user forum, tester portals, etc.?

Not only are the users going to wonder whether the content belongs to the same company, when facing most of the Support and Documentation materials, but also why it still looks and feels so like… last century.