It should be obvious by now that the use of augmented (digital) reality is mainstream (with the universality of Pokemon GO, for example) but there is more than the display technology that should point the way to effective ways to publish information for users. Those of us who still develop, publish, and maintain content (what we used to call ‘documentation’) certainly know that we have to keep up with the latest ways of using the Internet technology (if not the Internet itself) for distributing information in a collaborative way in the corporate enterprise. First there is the fact that professionals of this generation (millenials, generation X-ers, etc.) always have their digital device (is it still called a phone?) with them at all times, so it’s not a question of whether to publish for mobile reading – this is a fact of life. Second, to gamify the information, or at least the hunt for the information (lures and all) should be part of the strategy to keep readers engaged and to only provide what they need when they need it. As Brendan Keogh’s article reminded me, third, there is the sense of familiarity or trust with the brand that allows the user to be comfortable with the interface. Documentation has come a long way and maybe has yet a far way to go.
Thanks to Abby Covert (by way of UIE Webinar), I had a chance to reflect on my own effort as an Information Architect. Beth Fowler and the TriUXPA gang that brought us the webinar at TEKSystems this past week were very gracious and open. The pizza wasn’t the best, but the conversation and the presentation made up for it. Abby’s talk was titled “Collaborative Information Architecture” which should be redundant but we all need reminding that working with information in the corporate enterprise is truly collaborative and succeeds when all the stakeholders get to express what’s important. Words are important; concepts are crucial. I know “Information Architecture” is bit of an inflated title – we’re not really architects who stay above the fray and hand out blueprints to the more down-to-earth construction team. We are involved with the “construction” as much as any other. But it was fun to take an hour or more to listen to someone talk about how she approaches information in the enterprise and how she handles team collaboration at dealing with issues. She covered a range of topics and never got too deep or too abstract.
I need to take the time to write down some of my insights but for now I will just record that the webinar was well attended – over 20 of us there – and that I got some good ideas out of it.
You wouldn’t think that an event on a Thursday night would be so fun and exciting, but when you bring together about 45 professionals who share a common interest and you give the evening a tone of being an event with just a little structure, you get some pretty playful results. Not always a social group of talented individuals, user experience professionals are a mix of introverts and extroverts, a veritable alphabet soup of Myers-Briggs conclusions. And yet a bunch of them came to Citrix in downtown Raleigh for an evening of lightning talks – with each speaker given only 5 minutes to talk with their automatically advancing slides displaying on the wall behind them. It was a fun time – with different ideas, different tones, and a range of personalities.
The evening was possible because of the collaboration of two groups, a joint venture of sorts, between a Explore UX Raleigh Edition (a Meetup) and TriUXPA (Triangle chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association). (We just need to come up with a more pronounceable acronym.) I could write for pages about all the insights shared, but I’ll wait until the slides are published. I might also have some more photos to post, but we’ll start with these two – the Citrix building in downtown Raleigh and the group assembling in the presentation area.
There was a diversity of people and talents and yet a common thread of the value of the user experience. It’s not just that we have skills related to designing the user experience or that we know how to understand or construct or promote or change the user experience. It’s that we value the user experience. Just as a developer can place value in the closeness of the code to the required or desired function, we value, as user experience professionals, how the product or service is perceived and used and experienced. It was fun to be there and talk with such insightful and motivated professionals.
Thanks to Michelle Chin for organizing and MC-ing the event. Thanks to the gang at Citrix for hosting the event and the TriUXPA for providing food and drink. Awesome. I guess the next thing we’ll work together on is the Tiny GIANT (Raleigh, NC) coming at the top of 2016.
I visited Hunt Library tonight and experienced the results of the ongoing multi-phase project of North Carolina State University’s Communication department, called the The Virtual Martin Luther King project. There were over 40 of us at the gathering to experience the second phase of the project.
The project is led by Dr. Victoria Gallagher who introduced the project to the audience and then introduced those collaborating on the project. They are shown here with the projected web pages on the multiple screens around the room.
The project – of recreating a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that was not recorded, that was given in a church that no longer stands – seems a curious and awesomely intricate effort to undertake. The mix of science and art, of historical fact and speculative creativity, is such a common theme in communication. The value of recreating a past form of communication and bringing it into the present to allow us to study it and to experience it in an immersive way certainly justifies the effort these professors and students are putting into it.
The small room in which we sat and experienced the re-created speech in all its subtlety and meaning was such a contrast to the larger lobby space of the Hunt Library, where there was no speech occurring, where there was plenty of white light, and where no action was being taken other than scholars studying the printed word.
I look forward to attending the presentation at the end of the third phase when this auditory and visual experience will include the reproduction of a physical space in which to experience the speech. This was certainly and insightful experience for me.
After remembering veterans on November 11th, it was fun to join a group of fellow user experience professionals for a night out later in the week on a less solemn occasion. World Usability Day provided the opportunity to get together and have some fun. TriUXPA (the Triangle chapter of the User Experience Professionals Association) arranged to have a catered dinner at SAS followed by a speaker for a full evening of professional banter and an exciting talk about the core of prototyping. It succeeded on all counts and ups the ante for the program manager for next year.
The evening started with name-tags and small talk – general networking and saying hello to friends. Then it was time for dinner. The dining room in Building F on the SAS campus is nice. We had a buffet that included the most delicious meat lasagna and a vegetable medley and salad and fettuccine with two types of sauces. It was superb. There were over 60 of us in attendance; with small tables, everyone got to talk with a small group which helped conversation.
The waitstaff were so courteous and thoughtful, and the food was so delicious, I didn’t want to leave when it was time for the presentation. I had to share a picture of the desert – this cake was the culinary equivalent of a great user experience. It presented itself as delicious and artistic; the balanced richness of taste and lightness of texture did not disappoint. Kudos to the staff at SAS. We teased Don Sugar (who had made the arrangements for the dinner) for having stayed up all night to cook all this food by himself. It was great.
Then we assembled in the auditorium. Jake Geib-Rosch started off the presentation with a few announcements and then Frank Pollock, with TIMA, introduced our speaker. Jason Cranford Teague gave a presentation entitled “Prototyping User Experience: Engagement is Never Static“. Jason did a great job of encouraging us to think outside of the 2-D prototype and realize that the best way of engaging a client about a design is to hand it to them and let them start using it.
He started by giving us each an exercise – design the toothbrush of the future (in thirty seconds) by drawing something on a piece of paper. Then he asked us to open our little container of Play-Doh and make the toothbrush of the future – making a prototype that a user could pick up and use. Again in less than a minute we each had something. Now he asked us to compare the two prototypes. Because the first one was on paper, it was more of an abstraction about the idea of a solution, but the latter was closer to an actual product and thus probably gets us closer to meeting a client’s expectations. Several of us designed something different using a 3-D prototype that we could handle, and the comparison was insightful.
Jason asked how many of us work with developers? Of course, all of us raised our hands in affirmation. For a more interesting response, he could have asked how many of us work directly with clients, customers, users? That might have gotten a varied response and taken the discussion in a different direction. (See my talk on Communication is Key at WritersUA 2014 about the value of talking directly to users.)
The presentation included some great tips about “the fidelity cliff” – the point where more time spent on the prototype offers no more benefit to advancing the solution – and the “minimum viable product” and tools to help with more realistic Web application (or Web site) prototyping. This reminded me of the visit I made to the South Carolina Acquarium’s “4D Theater” which made the experience more real by adding spritzed water, chairs that rumble and soap bubbles to simulate air bubbles underwater – a much more immersive experience. For our customers, we should try for prototypes that are as close to HTML5 CSS3 Web dynamics as possible. But he didn’t leave us there. Jason recommended some tools and even gave us some specifics about what he uses and why.
Does anyone else think this sign is funny because it could be read more than one way?
I know what they mean, about there being a bluff nearby where you can see great views of the bay, but I was thinking in terms of someone bluffing the public into believing one thing when something else was actually going on at this wildlife reserve. I spotting this on a trip to Charleston; the Santee National Wildlife Refuge, at least the Bluff Unit, is right off the interstate highway. It was a nice stop for stretching my legs a little. When I have more time, I’m going to return and look around a little; it looks as if there are some great hiking trails there. I hope they are not bluffing. 🙂
I’ll be presenting at the upcoming WritersUA – The Conference for Software User Assistance.
Here’s the prose summary of my presentation:
User assistance must be understood in a larger context in order to maintain its value and relevance. Documentation, training, and customer support must all be integrated as part of a conversation with the customer. At Paragon, customer support includes helping the customer understand how to use the product more effectively but also having the customer help us to understand what they are trying to accomplish. So adding videos, e-learning, and doing regular web conferences with customers augments what we produce in terms of online help and a knowledge base and becomes just part of a conversation with the customer. As we drive our user assistance projects, we must recognize that they are part of a larger ecosystem of information, namely the customer conversation that starts with a sales transaction and continues with customer support. If you are in a small company, or a small department of a large enterprise, and have to develop user assistance for software, you need to consider more than just the narrowest definition of user assistance centered on your product. This presentation aims at encouraging you to converse with your customer, collaborate with your customer, and ultimately to succeed by helping your customer succeed.
Anyone who has visited Bass Lake Park in Holly Springs, NC, has seen the turtles basking in the sun. There are ducks and all manner of fish in the lake and occasionally I have disturbed the solitude of the Great Blue heron that calls that lake home. It’s a good thing that these species and wildlife around this region have a new set of friends – the South Wake Conservationists, a local wildlife club of individuals who want to conserve wildlife habitat and teach us in the general public about wildlife habitat and diversity.
You can find out more about them at www.SouthWakeConservationists.org. They are having a public “grand opening” event on November 13th from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at their headquarters, namely Bass Lake Park.
I attended one of their board meetings tonight, while I was in Holly Springs, and everyone was gracious and welcoming. Stephanie Wage, the group’s president, greeted me and ran the meeting. Her energy will keep the group growing. The group is starting with humble beginnings, but they have the passion to accomplish great things.
This photo is not very good – Stephanie is off to the side, but she will have plenty of chances to be seen and photographed at the upcoming open house. And the members were only looking at the printed report for a few minutes – most of the time was spent in lively discussion about upcoming events. I think Holly Springs (and nearby Apex, Fuquay-Varina, etc.) should be glad to have such a caring and friendly group. I’m glad that there will be friends of the local wildlife.
What better way to spend a lunch during the work week than at a fancy restaurant with colleagues who you respect and who respect you. TimelyText hosted a luncheon at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse that was well attended and quite enjoyable. Between the delicious meal and the good conversation, I can’t think of a better boost to my day. TimelyText knows there are things that technical writers and instructional designers value highly, and recognition and respect are two of them. Having a meal at Fleming’s was a great experience.
Ronnie Duncan recognized Chuck Arnold who was one of their original contract tech writers. The TimelyText staff were present and were so nice – Kai Heath did a great job of MC-ing. Everyone received a container of M&Ms (with TimelyText printed on them) just for the fun of it. (You can never go wrong with giving chocolate.)
There was just an air of feeling valued by a leading provider of communication professionals. I was glad I sat at a table with Adrian West and fellow writers (and a project manager) that offered some fun conversation while eating together. It was fun to recognize that there are many of us experienced professionals in similar situations, whether working for big companies or small companies, that involve developing and maximizing the flow of accurate and relevant information with a limited budget. Even with new tools and dynamic processes, the value of the experienced professional cannot be underestimated.
Keep up the great work, TimelyText.
Robert Perry is off and running as the new chapter president of the Carolina Chapter of STC (Society for Technical Communication). I first caught up with him, after not having seen him for the past few years, at the Mez restaurant in Durham, despite the torrential rain that evening. He is always in motion, as evidenced by his blurry appearance in the photos in this post. He talked with those of us who braved the elements (and miraculously found parking in a very popular restaurant). The evening was social, but there was plenty to talk about. A few new faces and some familiar ones, too, were present. (There were at least two past presidents at the table.) The food was delicious and the service was great. While the nominal agenda was a recap of the latest STC Summit, I think we talked more about a range of other topics. Many of us come from different backgrounds and are working in truly interesting places.
Not long after, Robert had what the chapter calls ‘Vision Day’ — but it was really just an hour or two meeting that summarized the events for the coming year and gave everyone a chance to brainstorm some new ideas. Several meeting topics were proposed, but the one that drew the most discussion was about technical communicators are working in Agile teams (in software development groups).
I think Robert will do fine this year as president of the chapter.
It certainly came as a surprise to see my name on a list of “influential” technical communicators again this year. I consider myself honored to be in such a list of influencers. In 2014, the fourth year I’ve been on the list, I’m still in the Top 40 TechComm Influencers. I guess I better pay attention to the influence I’m having.
NCSU doesn’t advertise this much but the Student Short Film Showcase, an event at which students showed their short films, short animations, and short videos, was an entertaining evening of creativity and exploration, of both art and communication.
There was a small crowd there – mostly students. The auditorium at Hunt Library is huge and so even with more than 50 people, there was still plenty of seating. The technical difficulty, where sound was lost temporarily, was overcome and the students did a great job of answering questions about their work. While I’m partial to animation (and enjoyed The Heist, Cotton Unity, and Shelter) I also enjoyed the live action film, with pieces with such names as Level 3 East, The Game of Fate, and Prism.
What can I say? Some of the best friendships start as chance meetings. Some of the best works or best ideas come about from the least effort. And so it was at this weekend’s SpeedCon 2014; I so thoroughly enjoyed myself with new people in a radically new place and feel as if new ideas and new friendships have formed. In typical (or should I say atypical) style, the ‘unconference on communication’ gave us an opportunity to leave behind the ordinary and experience a fantastic way to look at communication from the inside out.
From arriving at the James Hunt Library, you feel you are on the set of the latest Star Trek movie about to enter the Starship Academy. The inside of the building is new and clean, and you sense you are stepping with one foot into the future with all the latest digital technology so readily available throughout the building. But despite the presence of smart walls and surround screens, most sessions dealt with more personal aspects of human communication that we encounter both in our workplace and in our personal lives.
Sarah Egan Warren did a great job hosting the conference and Jen Riehle was the silent partner, keeping everything going like clockwork. Timely Text and STC Carolina Chapter did a great service in sponsoring the lunch and desert, respectively. It would have been great to have seen more STC-ers there. Progress Software also helped in sponsoring the event. The topics of talks ranged from MOOCs to infographics to GitHub with a little DITA and crisis communication thrown in. My favorite talk was about video planning – Ashley Hardin from NetApp did a great job presenting some real-world challenges to providing technical content in video form for consumers of the content both internal to her organization and external to it. Of course, Dr. David Kroll’s brief run-through of his fascination with science communication with the public gave me plenty to think about. Ms. Warren’s “moving” talk on Pecha Kucha was both fun and thought provoking. Here she is in action:
One of the highlights was the tour of the library, the facility where the event was held. The tour guide who introduced us to the ‘book bot’ and explained so many of the resources available at this library made me wish I had asked her name. She was able to explain so much, almost in story form, and all from memory, while walking with up through the four floors and out on to a balcony before returning to our sessions. She was a wonder of communication in her own right. So many times that day, I asked myself “How can we ever understand all the dimensions of human communication?”
Yesterday, I learned on Twitter that the movie Shored Up was being shown on NC State University’s Centennial Campus in the auditorium of the new Hunt Library which had been declined by the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Since the documentary had something to do with beaches, I thought I’d check it out. I was surprised when I got there to see so many people. The auditorium was nearly full and by the time the movie showed, there were people in the aisles and in the back who could not find a seat. I guess the issues surrounding development, restoration, and use of beaches can draw a crowd. There were some pretty important people there – a panel of speakers who would address the audience after the movie, including the director of the movie.
For background on the event, check out these news articles:
- Film on development and climate change, declined by museum, gets Triangle showings
- Sea level rise documentary with NC focus comes to Triangle
The movie was an interesting collection of personal anecdote and science references – it explored a few different points of view on the state of our barrier beaches and suggested that the future will bring some difficult questions for those who want to keep thinking of the land on barrier islands as ordinary beaches that can remain the same. There was a lot of talk about science and politics, and even some economics (though not as much as science and politics). It definitely should get some discussion going. I was glad that NCSU hosted the showing and provided some time for the panel to voice some opinions and even answer some questions from the audience.
The movie attributed John McPhee’s The Control of Nature as a source of inspiration and it was clear from the movie’s content that this was the point of view of the movie’s creator. NCSU’s Dr. Kenneth Zagacki was there to keep the conversation going – exploring the ways that complex issues are presented to multiple audiences. The documentary had the voice of a few advocacy groups such as the American Littoral Society but it offered a range of voices and opinions.
For me it was an introduction to the idea of sea level rise in a way that is visible to me, since I enjoy going to North Carolina shore. Here are some links with some of the research findings:
- National Geographic’s Sea Level Rise: Ocean Levels Are Getting Higher – Can We Do Anything About It?
- Union of Concerned Scientists’ Causes of Sea Level Rise: What the Science Tells Us
- EPA’s take on Future Sea Level Change
This event was a great collaboration of different schools within NCSU and was a great opportunity to explore an issue that we face today.
At tonight’s TriUXPA meeting, Mona Singh did a great job of giving us some perspective on the emerging technologies that are called “Augmented Reality”. She showed us some apps on her smart phone and let us all see some small examples of what is out there already in terms of information that augments the display looking through the camera of her smart phone. The picture below shows her with her container of ketchup at which she pointed her phone in a demonstration of how companies are using “AR” to provide more information to consumers about their products. The other part of the picture shows the group gathered for her presentation. Thanks to TEKSystems for hosting the event.
But really what we’re talking about here is an augmented display, where additional information is displayed on the screen of a device (or a windshield of a car, or glasses worn by the user). So we’re not augmenting reality, but augmenting the view of reality. For me, an example of something that could more accurately be called augmented reality is my cup that changes color when you put a cold drink in it – the cup itself is changing color, not just my view of it through a device or a special pair of glasses. Or the road signs along the highway that say what is at this next exit – the road is real, the signs are real and augment the real road. But it’s probably too late to change the use of that phrase. You see, what I would call it would be “augmented display” but that sounds too wimpy. So how about “Augmented Recognition” so we can still use the acronym “AR”. What Mona taught us is that half the challenge of this technology is to recognize the buildings on the street or where the road is or whose face is in the view. So the technology is really augmenting what it recognizes with more digital information about what it recognizes.
But that being said, she shared some apps that are readily available:
There are also others:
Mona clarified for us that Google Glass, at least at this point in their development, is really not an augmented reality, just a more intimate display, by placing information in a small rectangle in the upper right corner of your field of view. It can be voice activated to take a picture or video, or gesture-activated (tapping a finger) to take some action, but it does not display information about the items in your view per se.
Another challenge besides handling the recognition of things in your view, and then displaying information on or around those items, is converging the information with the items in your view. While head up display (HUD) technology has been around for decades, the trend seems to be to make it more accessible to a range of devices in a range of different contexts.
I can think of a few further challenges for this technology. One is what I’d call “shared augmentation”. So while I’m driving, I’d like the augmented information to display not on my view of the windshield but on my passenger’s view, since she has volunteered to be my navigator. While I pilot the craft working in reality, she can help interpret the mass of data about which exit to take based on which stores or mountain vistas or fueling stations are there. Certainly one of the challenges will be to filter the information to show only what I’m most interested in. Just as Netflix is beginning to learn what movies I like and Pandora knows what music I like, my AR device should learn what information I’m most interested in seeing in a given context. Perhaps there is even a high-level (or meta) challenge here – to augment the augmentation. So if I’ve got information augmenting my view and I want to know where the information is coming from (commercial or governmental or non-profit, for example) can I flick a switch and see the information about the information?
There is more to write, but I’ll post this for now and add to it later. It was a great presentation and great group that enjoyed the discussion. One of the members recommended watching Sight on YouTube for a taste of what lies ahead.