Information Communications Professional Technical Document Design

This week’s design readings were informative for me in a number of ways. They made me feel a little schizophrenic – as talk of design often does – because I wanted to engage them in about six different ways at once. (As Schriver notes, design is in everything from the newspaper to the height of your high heels.) While the principles of design are constant (as is the knowledge that sometimes breaking with principles is the best course), they can be applied in very different ways depending on context.

I was most struck in Schriver’s piece by the acknowledgment and foregrounding of the fact that design does not happen as the last step in a document (at least, not in an effective one). We recently developed a set of templates at the newspaper where I work. Although these templates were intended to be for use during elections (they provide visual rhetorical strategies for comparison using all the CRAP principles), they could be applied to a lot of other things with the aid of a competent designer — and reporter. These templates are examples of design coming before textual content is even a thought. I might send a reporter out to get me a photo of each of several candidates and the answers to certain questions in order to complete the document I have designed to flow with that particular content. (See the example below — the reporter had to know and understand this design before beginning work on textual elements.)

Context was also a major facet of Markel’s analysis, particularly in the final section that focused on critique. For example, one image was from a company magazine and a question accompanying it asked if there was a enough white space. For a magazine, the answer was no. For a newspaper, the white space allotment was acceptable. That point, for me, is the most important. All the CRAP principles, accessing tools, resource limitations and audience engagemtn techniques aside, a good designer always, always has to be aware of context.

That said, I think context is also the answer to Schriver’s naming quandary. What I call “document design,” whenever I do it, depends on who I’m doing it for. When I volunteered to design a magazine for a fifth-grade class, I called it “magazine design.” When I work at the newspaper, it’s “page layout.” When I’m working on a project for school, I tell people I’m doing “technical communication.” And when I’m talking to a fellow technical communicator, I generally say “professional communication” — because, to me, that seems to be the most apt term for what I do.

But then again, I am my own context. It’ll be different for everyone.

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