I get this question a lot. Is technical communication a part of user experience?
And my usual reply is Absolutely. Without Doubt.
One major interaction that a user has with a system is the documentation accompanying the product, either as printed manuals or their electronic cousins. In fact, any text that a user sees on the screen in the form of labels and copy is a form of technical communication – another source of interaction with the user.
I’ve had many people ask me about transitioning from technical communication to usability/user experience. All I can say to them is that you might already be doing it; only that you aren’t aware of it yet.
Another question I get to field often is how to ‘get into’ it. The answer that I give mostly is Volunteer. Volunteer to check screens/copy text for clarity/dis-ambiguity. Volunteer to check every interaction a user would have with the system. Provide clear and meaningful copy for error messages.
Technical Communicators often forget a very important fact – they are often the first users of a system. Most of the time, they are just concerned about just documenting the system, rather than looking at it from a user perspective. I’ve seen this happen a lot of times and have been guilty of the same on several occasions.
In a blog post at Adaptive Path, Peter Merholz writes,
“I believe that user experience is not best thought of as an activity or function, but as a mindset. To varying degrees, every customer-facing person in an organization has an impact on, and, thus, responsibility for the user experience.”
That’s something everyone aspiring to be a usability practitioner ought to be taking to heart.