Notes for Robert R. Johnson User-Centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts
Key concepts: designer's image, human factors, local knowledge, localized situation, metis, rhetorical triangle, system actions, tutorial, usability research, user's situation, user tasks.
Audience centered rather than writer centered approach to technology. Uses myth of Prometheus but could also invoke Odysseus. System centered model is the designer's perspective. Posits user-centered rhetorical triangle. View user as practitioner, producer and citizen. Connect to Barker task-oriented software documentation as example of user-centered technology focusing on localized situation. In the end, aren't we back to Feenberg? Johnson's solution is to coax more support for empowering technical writers from businesses and institutions, mainly through education - the final chapter is on curricula - an answer the operates within the traditional logic of capitalist production. Besides obvious nod towards FOSS practices, consider IDEX Voice of the Customer as a business practice that tries to involve the user in iterative design efforts. Suggests reasons to study computer user documentation, including the “tutorial genre” as cultural lens, aligning with software studies, where I argue FOS cultures provide low hanging fruit.
Related theorists: Barker, Carroll, de Certeau, Feenberg, Grabill, Hartley, Kinneavy, Mitcham, Taylor, Turkle, Vernant, Wacjman, Winner, Wright.
(x) As practice and as pedagogy, it seeks to shift the emphasis in technical documentation from the user as a passive recipient of technical information to the user as an active cocreator of that information and the technology it inscribes.
(xi-xii) Winner presents an approach to technology based upon concepts of limits. . . . The act of defining these limits and then governing them is, in his view, the responsibility of the populace, not something that should just be left to the institutions that currently control the direction of technology design, development, and dissemination.
(xii) Mitcham wants the discipline of philosophy to create a space where people can become critically aware of technology and its manifestations. . . . Similar to Winner, but clearly more couched in a Marxist, socialist frame, Feenberg brings the disciplines associated with critical theory into the debates surrounding technology, technique, and society.
(xii) Sociologists . . . have helped develop methods of investigation (mostly ethnographic or case studies) that tell stories of people and technology in a variety of contexts.
(xiii) In a fine overview of feminist perspectives, Judith Wacjman (1991) reminds researchers of technology and culture that we should be interested in the private spheres.
Audience-centered rather than writer-centered approach to technology informed by Winner, Mitcham, Wacjman.
I perceive rhetoric as a discipline that, for over twenty-five
hundred years, has had a central investment in revealing the
unconscious and uncovering the mysterious for the end of transferring
knowledge in a democratic and an ethical manner.
(xv) I am arguing for an audience-centered, not a writer-centered approach to technology.
PART I Situating Technology
Users, Technology, and the Complex(ity) of the Mundane: Some “Out of the Ordinary” Thoughts
Retelling and Reinventing the Mundane
(4) These silent, hidden stories have been effaced in modern times, however, as the value placed upon the stories of everyday knowledge - of “know-how” - has given way to the “knowledge of the machine,” or the “knowledge in the system.”
(5) The knowledge of everyday practice has become nearly voiceless: a colonized knowledge ruled by the technology and the “experts” who have developed the technologies. . . . For de Certeau, know-how has become a matter of folklore, of tales often told but not believed to be “real.” . . . Rhetoric, particularly the arts of rhetoric, can be used to resurrect this lost form of knowledge and make it visible.
(6) The multiple roles we all play in our everyday actions, in contrast to the overspecialized view we most often have of our lives, speak most pointedly of the lost, colonized voices of know-how.
(6) The reversal of theory then practice to practice then theory is a table-turning phenomenon unrecognizable by many academic disciplines that instead champion the knowledge of theory over the knowledge of practice.
(9) As unreflective as we may be of language as a technology, it is still a human construct, a human invention that is taught, learned, and used in strategic ways, much as we might use hammers, automobiles, or computers. In addition, all three subjects in this scene are users of the larger, more ominous industrial technology of steel manufacturing.
De Certeau recovering mundane subverted beneath discourse of expertise.
In essence, users understand technology from a unique perspective
constructed from knowledge of practice within certain contexts. Yet,
a few others claim, this type of knowledge is subverted beneath a
discourse of expertise, and thus has been rendered invisible to the
modern eye. We take for granted that which we do
unwittingly surrender knowledge and power due to our lack of
reflection on our mundane interactions with technology.
(11) In so doing, we also surrender fundamental democratic rights and responsibilities.
(11) Users of a culture, in other words, often are the better judges, but if they are silent or invisible then they (we) have little power to affect the decision-making processes.
Theorizing the Mundane
Encompass discursive, nonmaterial aspects of technology beyond engineering perspective, sensitive to cognizance of cultural ambivalence and historical context.
This theory of users and technology also must be cognizant of the
social context - the cultural ambiance - that ultimately situates the
user and the technology.
(13) I emphasize that the problems associated with technological use are, literally, ancient. Historical context, in other words, is lacking in most user-centered research. The ancient Greeks, from whom I draw a number of concepts regarding technology and use, treated technology as an art was in the use of the product, not in the design or making of the product itself.
(14) My interest in technology encompasses the discursive, or nonmaterial, aspects of technology and technological use.
Refiguring the End of Technology: Rhetoric and the Complex of Use
(18) Prometheus had brought to humans, through fire, the knowledge of art: the systematic, creative knowledge of craft and technique.
Surprising that Johnson does not invoke, along with Prometheus, Odysseus for his cunning use of language to trick the cyclops angers the gods that embodies metis discussed later.
Prometheus had given humans the power of knowledge, and one of the
strongest forms of this “crafty” knowledge was language.
(19) the power of language and other technologies is useful, but with that power comes responsibility for, and a respect of, the powerfulness.
and Rhetoric: A Connection of Ends
Technology and “Interested” Ends
(21) I propose that the end of technology be refigured as in the user: those humans . . . who interact with various technologies . . . on a daily basis in our public and personal lives.
Rhetoric and the End of an
(21-22) rhetoric is the art of creating (inventing), arranging, and delivering language for the purpose of evoking action upon the part of the audience.
(23) Drawn from the Aristotelean concept of productive knowledge, this definition of art places an ethical and a moral responsibility upon the rhetor/maker/artisan to make artifacts that suit the needs of the audience or, in the case of technology, the user.
(24) First, techne is aligned with a “true course of reasoning.”
(24) Second, techne is not concerned with issues of certainty.
The System-Centered Model of Technology
System-centered model of technology embodies designer image.
The system is created through a process of prototyping and iterative
redesigning that is primarily controlled by the designers or
artisans. From this process emerges a technological artifact that
embodies the designer's
(27) The interface is crucial to the user of the technology, but more often than not this intimate connecting point between the technology and the user is relegated to the end of the development cycle.
User-friendly may not be designed in best interests of users: easy to use but purpose still baffling, potentially promoting unethical uses of technology.
User-friendly can describe a technological interface that is easy to
use buy may not necessarily be the best interest of the user.
(29) due to the confusion or lack of acknowledgment concerning technology's ends, we continue to create technologies that baffle users and in the worst cases promote unethical uses of technology (Sedgwick 1993).
Appears system is driving the user; add users situation to design model, representing user activities of learning, doing and producing.
Why, it can be asked, does the designer not have feedback from the
system, and more importantly, feedback from the user? It appears that
the system is driving the user, and once again it serves as the
(30) A theory of user-centered technology must keep the user's view of reality in mind to avoid entrapment in what could appear overtly to be user-centered ends, but could covertly be a reconstruction of system-centered ends.
(31) the model shifts the focus by concentrating on the user, and it adds another dimension - the user's situation.
(31) it represents the user activities of learning, doing, and producing.
(31) The user's situation also takes into account the tasks and actions he or she will be performing as a result of a particular situation of activity.
(32) In a user-centered approach to technology, users are active participants in the design, development, implementation, and maintenance of the technology.
(33) The designer, as the arrows indicate in Figure 2.4, receives feedback about the technology from all quarters - the user, the interface, the artifact, and the user's situation. . . . Drawn from the system, the user's situation, the designer's image of the system, and from the users themselves, the interface - the crucial component of the technology that users literally touch or feel - is derived from a true negotiation.
Resituating the User: Rhetoric and the Complex of
Rhetoricizing the User-Centered Model
Kinneavy rhetorical triangle has for points Reader, Writer, Reality, and Johnson places Text in the center; his version has points Artifact/System, Artisans/Designers, User Tasks/System Actions with Users in the center; compare to Cummings use of rhetorical triangle to discuss machine rhetorics and programming.
triangle changed the terms on the three points from Richards'
referent/symbol/thought to reality/reader/writer, and he provided a
fourth term that was added to the center of the triangle - text (see
(36)(Figure 2.6) The User-Centered Rhetorical Triangle
(37) User tasks are the representations of the technology's actions as perceived by the user. System actions are the technology's actions as perceived by the artisan or designer.
(38) these pressures and constraints help from a complex that circumscribes, and, in turn, fashions, the rhetorical components of technology (see Figure 2.7).
(38) In the first rind, the context of user activity is represented by the three activities of learning, doing, and producing.
(38) The next outward ring describes those constraints that larger human networks place upon technological use. These networks - depicted here as disciplines, institutions, and communities.
(39) Residing on the outer edges of the complex are the factors of culture and history.
PART II Complicating
Not Just for Idiots Anymore: Practice, Production, and Users' Ways of Knowing
(44-45) The idea that users are “mindless” is nothing new. . . . From automobiles to computers, the concept of idiot proofing has defined the view of the user: someone who knows little or nothing of the technological system and who is seen as the source of error or breakdown.
(45) To effectively implement changes to current notions of users and use will take concerted efforts to understand the knowledge that users have of technological artifacts and systems.
(45-46) is knowledge production also within the province of those generally associated with “the practical,” such as the technicians or users of technology?
(46) refiguring technology onto a user landscape forces a rethinking and potential revaluing of material, social, and political relations in radical ways.
User as practitioner, producer and citizen displace designer perspective they are mindless.
The first of these aspects is user
. . . when users are viewed as only the mere implementors of
technology, there is little room for a user epistemology other than
as an “idiot” who receives technology and then puts it to use. .
. . there is a cunning
with practice that has been virtually overlooked.
(46) The second aspect . . . is the user as producer. . . . users as producers are capable of being designers and maintainers of technology: humans who are important factors in technological decision making (as opposed to the unfortunate human factors we will see exemplified in traditional human factors research in chapter 4).
(46) The third area . . . is the user as citizen. We will investigate how users, particularly in a democracy, can serve as active participants in the larger technological order.
Knowledge of Practice: User as Practitioner
(47) The tool-use model ultimately has the effect of describing user knowledge from a tool-centered, artifact-centered, or system-centered perspective, because the knowledge of the technology is assumed to be in the technology, not in the user.
Besides obvious nod towards FOSS practices, consider IDEX Voice of the Customer as a business practice that tries to involve the user in iterative design efforts.
Removed from the decision-making processes and design stages of how
the tool will be constructed and what purposes it might serve, the
user as tool user is a knowledgeless puppet whose only claim to
epistemic status is the prescriptive knowledge he or she has of the
use of the tool.
(52) techne represents the human force, the human knowledge that permits control through technology - whether the technology is a basic hand tool or an intertwined network of information services.
Metis as cunning intelligence is also skill of Odysseus (Horkheimer and Adorno) and coyote trickster (Haraway).
or what is also called cunning intelligence, is the ability to act
quickly, effectively, and prudently within ever-changing
(54-55) Practical knowledge, especially knowledge of making aimed at some end, was seen as being very important to the ancient Greek mind. . . . In the modern context, we simply value theoretical or scientific knowledge more highly than we do technical or practical knowledge.
(55)(footnote 19) Technology as applied science, then, has no real epistemic quality of its own as it can only borrow knowledge from, or test the knowledge of, science. . . . As far as user knowledge is concerned, technology as applied science strips all types of users (e.g., from drivers of cars to mechanics) of an epistemological base.
(56) The predominance of universal truth and certain knowledge, they argue, has subverted the situated and contingent knowledge of the practical arts, like techne and metis.
as Production: User as Producer
(57) Users are producers of knowledge, but their modes of production have been rendered invisible by those modern cultural proclivities that subordinate the user to being a mere practitioner.
(58) Users, in the ancient definition, know the “how” and the “that” of technology as it moves from context to context through iterative processes of production and practice.
Compare user as producer to Turkle juxtaposition of postmodernism and the retreat from deep technical understanding.
Although I think it important to mourn the loss of generalist skills
associated with producing something from scratch, it is more
important that we actively
changes to the social order that carefully assess the realities of
the present situation.
(59) Instead, we should bemoan the loss of a sense of values related to users as they are involved in the actions of practice and production.
(61) Like the “idiots” who use technologies, those who hold practical positions in the hierarchy have the least power even if they are, like the litigation workers, actually producing knowledge that turns the literal or metaphorical gears of technology.
of the Polis: User as Participatory Citizen
(62-63) In concert with the advent of rhetoric, Vernant points to the openness of the social order as the second great feature of the polis.
(63) This “likeness” laid the foundation for the unity of the polis. . . . Hierarchy is refigured as a horizontal plane where everyone shares across a level space, instead of a vertical plane were decisions and power move from top to bottom (usually) or vice versa (rarely). . . . Others counter, however, that the melting pot-like metaphor of “color blindness” is actually a definition of equality created by those already in power who want to maintain the status quo.
(63) Without a doubt, a user-centered theory must confront the dilemma of “likeness” if a goal of the theory is, in part, to aid in the achievement of a more egalitarian technological order.
(64) User-centered approaches should rethink the user as being an active participant in the social order that designs, develops, and implements technologies. Users as producers have the knowledge to play an important role in the making of technologies; users as practitioners actually use the technologies and thus have a knowledge of the technologies in action; users as citizens carry use knowledge into an arena of sociotechnological decision making: the arena of the polis, or, if you prefer politics.
Human Factors and the Tech(no)logical: Putting User-Centered Design into Perspective
(70) Some may argue (for example, from an “idiot-proof” perspective) that this apparent mismatch between the machine and the human is the result of an untrained or a lazy human who just does not understand, or does not care to take the time to understand the complexity of the technological system.
(70) Technological systems have been routinely designed under the aegis of two basic premises: 1) that systems experts are the best equipped to make design decisions, and 2) that the best systems are designed to reflect rational decision-making processes.
(70) Most current technology design processes are based upon rational models of human behavior that attempt to predict the logical series of actions the potential user will follow in order to use the artifact.
(71) User-centered design has basically been the result of research done in and around the general field of human factors.
(71) This focus on the rational actions of human users, I will argue, actually perpetuates the development of system-centered technologies that merely give the appearance of focusing on the needs of humans.
The Spectrum of Human Factors
(72) these areas of study wish to make systems more usable, but they still base their research on models of the system that come from a system designer's viewpoint. The user is merely represented in the designer's mind, and the theories assume or require that the designer be sensitive enough to understand the needs of the user.
(73) Clearly, the human use perspective argues that the ineffectiveness of systems lies in the miscalculations and poor planning of the designers, the changes in environment, or alterations in user needs. . . . The early assessment of user needs turns much of the designing planning process around the consequently directs the development of systems toward a collaborative effort of designers and users.
Engineering or Engineering the Human?: The Beginnings of Human
(74) From the very beginning, human factors research has been driven more by a concern for technological and economic development than by a concern for the user of the technology.
(74-75) He [Taylor] describes the four basic principles of this empirical method in his book The Principles of Scientific Management: 1) scientifically justify each element of a worker's job in terms of its contribution to efficiency, 2) scientifically select the workers and train them, 3) ensure that the job is done as prescribed, and 4) have active management participation in the job.
Computers and End Users Enter the Scene
(76) The idea that the user must be integral to the design process has gained considerable momentum over the past fifteen years, but to view this as a singular movement in the field of human factors would be a mistake.
Hard Science versus Soft Science in Human-Computer
(77) The first group of researchers - the hard science group - is more interested in deriving more or less steadfast, universal scientific principles upon which to base design decisions, while the second group - the soft science researchers - focuses on the situated user as the central criterion of design.
(78-79) the approach represented by Newell and Card places the system ahead of the user. This research is interested in the computational modeling of the mind as an information processing machine (Boden 1988). . . . Such research is driven by concerns of artificial intelligence and not by the human use of systems.
Studying Users Through Usability and Minimalism
(81) Interest in the usability of written documents, though, is a relatively new concept. . . . In Britain, this research was spearheaded by James Hartley (1985) and Patricia Wright (1983), and the focus was on the visual design of information and the cognitive processes involved with the reading and use of functional documents.
(81) In the United States, there were two primary centers for document usability research - the American Institutes of Research (AIR) and the military. . . . From this research came the important distinction of functional reading tasks as either “reading to learn” or “reading to do.”
(81) The testing view is the more narrow definition - where usability is concerned with the testing of documents after they have been drafted and often carried out under laboratory-type conditions. A broader view of usability, as evaluation, advocates usability as an iterative process that contributes to early pre-draft evaluation of document needs, as well as testing that takes place later in the document development cycle.
(82) writers continue to serve the purpose of editors who take the findings of usability specialists and revise the documents accordingly. By using the findings of usability research to build strategies for documentation writers, we gain knowledge about users and put this toward the practical purposes of giving documentation writers strategies for developing more usable documents.
(82) Carroll [of IBM] drew upon evidence about novice users from usability research to develop guidelines for writing manuals of minimal size that avoid getting in the way of the computer learner by providing adequate, but not extensive, information.
Designing for Human Activity and User Participation
(83) they pursue interface designs that are not based upon rational structures, but instead reflect the often irrational and unpredictable flux of human nature. . . . human activity and participatory designers are interested in the social, political, cognitive, and practical facets of computer usage.
(83) In the United States, many of the advocates of such design methods are located at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.
Sociology, History, and Philosophy: Technological Determinism Along the Disciplinary Divides
Technology, Agency, Society: Sites of Determinist Skepticism
Attempting to Define Technological Determinism
Technology Shaping Culture Shaping Technology
In the Eye of the Beholder: Sociology and the Denial of Technological Determinism
History and the “Turn to Culture” in Technology Studies
Beholden to Technology: Philosophy and the Political Context
PART III Communicating Technology
When All Else Fails, Use the Instructions: Local Knowledge, Negotiation, and the Construction of User-Centered Computer Documentation
(117) Instructions are meant to make the assembly or use of an artifact appear simple: they are a masking device for the complexity of systems and artifacts.
(117) Further, instructional documents are what visibly reside between the user and the black box of technology. Therefore, they play the role of messenger in the transfer of the technology to the user and are more apt to be blamed for any breakdowns that occur during use because they are present at the moment of frustration or breakdown.
Example of Toptech Quality Assurance practices involve only rigorous documentation of test plans, and completely ignore user documentation.
(118) There is, in short, a deeply embedded assumption that instructional materials are adequate merely because the information is there in either print or on-line form. Never mind where or how the instructions will be used, this assumption dictates; the fact that users have a text in front of them is enough. Ironically, almost insidiously, this assumption places virtually the entire burden of comprehending instructional text on the user.
The user-as-victim and developer-as-hero narrative that is overcome by FOS development communities and even commercial programs like the IDEX Voice of the Customer.
(119) “User beware!” is the appropriate slogan. The user is relegated to the position of a one-way receiver who has little knowledge of the technology itself or how the technological system might be refigured through an active negotiation of designers, producers, and users. Instead, the situated activities associated with use are supplanted in favor of the static, correct description of technology, ala the knowledge of the “expert” who designed and developed the artifact. Thus instructional materials have, innocently or not, played a significant role in the continuation of the modern technology myth that the role of experts is to invent, while the role of novices is to await, with baited breath, the perfectly designed artifact.
Problems with instructional text magnified by personal computer, residing in multiple media, written for online consumption by technical writers regardless of their specialty.
First, the problems associated with instructional text have been
magnified as a result of the personal computer.
(120) Second, computer documentation resides in more than one medium (print and on-line forms), and thus further complicates the challenge of user-centered theory.
(120) Third, computer documentation writing is arguably the largest source of employment presently for technical communicators. . . . Most technical and scientific writers, regardless of their specialty, write computer-related instructional materials in print and on-line forms because their audiences are increasingly using the computer medium as a text.
Why does computer documentation lack serious scholarly analysis finds reasons from history of software studies (see footnote on 124), and the devaluation due to conjunction of complexity, ephemerality, and specificity.
(120) Fourth, computer documentation is a marginalized text in the sphere of academic research.
Suggests reasons to study computer user documentation, including the Barker tutorial genre as cultural lens, aligning with software studies, where I argue FOS cultures provide low hanging fruit.
(121) Finally, computer user documentation is a valuable lens, not only for the study of the texts themselves but also for studying the users who use them and the constituent cultures that arise/evolve from the activities associated with computer technology.
Artifacts, Experts, and Idiots: The
System-Centered View of Computer Documentation
(122) System-centered design practices, in contrast, have evolved from an earlier time in computer technology where users were experts in the use of the systems, thus had little need for instructional texts in computer usage.
UNIX documentation epitomizes system-centered approach, yielding documentation image of system.
Consider personal notes, examples, and jokes in man pages as examples of Feenberg democratization and Kitchin and Dodge negotiated code space.
The documentation in the system-centered approach, as exemplified by
the UNIX system, is a literal documenting of the static system: a
description of the system's features removed from any context of
(123) System-centered documentation places the needs of the technological system at the center and treats the system as the source of all knowledge pertaining to the development of documentation (as the arrow [in Figure 6.2] indicates).
(124) From this designer's image follows the documentation image of the system. Here the documentation is written (often by the designers themselves, at least in draft form) to reflect what the designer views as the important components of the system.
Often the most useful parts of man pages are the examples, whereas Internet searches answer most questions of specific use: thus new communication technologies fill in gaps in UNIX (now GNU/Linux) documentation, suggesting the system-centered approach is as much a necessary outcome of social, economic, and technological conditions as a bias perpetrated by its producers (but it is also true that most of the man pages were written by the authors of the software programs themselves).
(124)(footnote 8) Most system-centered documentation is produced in-house (and thus proprietary) with little or no published material explaining the process.
Texts, Readers, and “Reality”: The User-Friendly View of Computer Documentation
Screen shots and animated sequences convey a learning by doing rubric since they are exact representations of the user interface in the performance of common operations.
The user-friendly approach to documentation development is
characterized by an emphasis on the clarity of the verbal text, close
attention to structured page design, copious use of visuals (often
computer “screen shots”), and a warm, sometimes even excited tone
that “invites” the user to enjoy learning the new computer system
or software application. . . . the system is assumed to be complete
in the user-friendly approach, and user-friendly documentation is
viewed as the vehicle for carrying the “reality” of the system
image to the user.
(126) the user-friendly development process concentrates almost solely on text that has been written in accordance with the system designer's view of the system where there is little or no early analysis before the documents are drafted.
(127) Traditionally, the situation of the reader has been defined in terms of learning or doing, and the texts that result from this interpretation of the user's situation fall into two categories: those that support learning (i.e., print genres of tutorials, user guides; on-line genres of computer-aided training or tours), and those that support doing (i.e., print genres of reference and quick reference; on-line genres like “Help”).
(128) because this approach is based on reading, it focuses on how well readers comprehend and follow printed text. . . . Such research yields valuable insights into reader behavior, yet it should be questioned in terms of how easily these findings can be transferred to the user of other media - primarily the computer screen.
(128) Secondly, user-friendly research points toward the active engagement between a reader and a text (see Charney, Reder, and Wells 1988), but it usually does so outside of the context of a user's actual situation of use.
(129) Instead of looking at users as being merely active readers of text, user-centered design must ask questions of the user's situation, the medium of the documentation, and the organizational and cultural constraints placed upon the user and the documents.
Context, Negotiation, and the
Medium: The User-Centered View of Computer Documentation
(129) the user is not using the documentation to learn software abstractly, but rather is learning the computer application for a specific purpose or purposes.
What about the localized situation where the user is intending to become proficient in the technology as a technologist, engineer, or scientist: we have to avoid writing the designers out of the system; see the comments on learning through doing on 133-134.
User-centered approach be reflected back on technology studies in SCOT.
The core of the user-centered view, then, is the localized
within which the user resides.
(131) The user-centered view continues outward by taking into account the tasks and actions the user will be performing as a result of the users' situation.
(131) Based upon a rational description of how the user should act, traditional task analysis merely reflects the anticipated actions of an idealized, logical user.
(131) Second, the tasks in traditional task analysis are still dictated by the system.
(132) Instead, the analysis attempts to understand the irrational or contingent occurrences that users experience within their local, everyday spaces. For instance, it is important in user-centered documentation to illuminate fundamental characteristics of users' situations to describe those cunning solutions that users have developed for dealing with technology. . . . These moments of metis or articulation work depict users producing knowledge, or at least displaying that they themselves have constructed/produced in the past and are now using to perform in the present situation. Such localized, domain knowledge is unaccounted for through most computer documentation development processes, and, subsequently, the localized cunning knowledge of the work environment fails to surface in the written texts themselves.
The choice of medium extends beyond print/electronic, and is especially important when it is desired that users be involved in producing documentation. The task of collecting localized domain knowledge may not be appropriate for printed documentation, but exists better in searchable, distributed databases, message forums, and other repositories. This body of user created documentation often exists outside the control of the software producer, and its usefulness is often directly judged by the users by built in rating systems or statistics generated by search engines. This state of affairs is much more apparent ten years after Johnson's book was published than at the time. The assumption that it is too costly to involve the users is to ignore the grassroots efforts that may arise in such distributed, disconnected channels. (Grabill makes the point that much reading and knowledge work is distributed.) Johnson looks to redefining the tutorial genre as a means of maintaining the traditional division of labor between software producer and user consumer. He ends the chapter wondering how to enroll the large number of writers required to produce “customized documentation for specific, localized contexts.” A critical mass has been reached so that user-produced, web-based documentation supplies much of the how-to knowledge desired for solving localized, domain specific questions regarding the use of technology systems of all sorts.
it is important in user-centered design to determine which medium
will best fit the particular user situation and tasks.
(133) In addition to a choice of medium, the type of activity that the user is engaged in must be assessed. . . . In the context of computer documentation, doing describes activities where users are not reflecting upon their actions for the sake of long-term retention.
(133-134) The term learning, in the computer documentation realm, is revised to learning through doing. This change in terminology accounts for the problems associated with learning about computers while simultaneously using the computer: a paradoxical situation where you are compelled to learn (maybe because your job depends upon the new technology), but you are actually more interested in just completing the activity at hand.
(134-135) Producing describes two specific activities of users as they are involved with documentation development. . . . First of all, users in a user-centered approach actually take part in the production of the documentation. . . . Second, users are producers in the sense of knowledge production.
(135) the reason of noninvolvement of users is the perception that it simply is too costly.
(135) User-centered approaches to technology development are, in part, counter to the short-term mind-set of business planning because the benefit of user involvement can best be measured over the long term.
(136) A user-centered approach, in essence, is a thorough form of audience analysis that is aimed at designing documentation that fits what a user actually does, not necessarily what we think he or she should do.
(136) The user-centered perspective invites involvement by the user throughout the process. The two-way movement attempts to disperse authority through a recursive process that is always in motion and always correcting itself, dependent upon situational contingencies.
Rhetorical Complex and Computer Documentation
Genres in the Making: The Case of the Ubiquitous Tutorial
(140) the genres of computer documentation (print or on-line) generally are broken down into two overall categories - texts for doing and texts for learning.
(141) The genre tutorial is supposedly well defined as a “use once, throw away” document - a no-deposit, no-return text that is supposed to get the user “up and running.”
Johnson uses the File Maker Pro 2-1 for Macintosh documentation to illustrate this transformation of the tutorial.
(141) There is no reason, however, that tutorial documents could not perform a broader array of functions for users. First, however, the genre “tutorial” will have to be redefined. The concept of tutorials as learning through doing documents offers one perspective on how this can be accomplished.
Thus the ability to display multiple shell sessions to include the built in help (man pages) advantages UNIX-like environments for keeping the user in the midst of the activity at hand rather than launching a complex online help system.
(146) The very presence of documents,
whether print or on-line, presents the danger of users becoming
disengaged from the learning/doing processes, because the documents
can draw the attention away from the activity at hand.
(146) the issue of empowering writers within their workplace contexts looms large in the domain of instructional text.
To Document or Not to
(147) Why not just make the interface so usable that documentation is never needed?
Beyond the Text: Writers, Writers,
(148) There is one issue, however, that may be the most problematic of all - creating customized documentation for specific, localized contexts and the corresponding number of writers needed to design and develop the documents.
(150) writers should increasingly take on the role of interface designer.
Are we back to Feenberg with solution to coax more support for empowering technical writers from businesses and institutions, mainly through education, noting the final chapter is on curricula, an answer the operates within the traditional logic of capitalist production?
Invoke Yeats on recasting technical writer, combining with exposure to philosophy of computing as flip side of more enlightened programmers who also partake in creating documentation.
(150) A recasting of the technical writer, though, will ultimately call for an increased role in the decision-making processes of technological development.
Technical Communication, Ethics, Curricula: User-Centered Studies and the Technical Rhetorician
User-Centered Pedagogy: Author(ity) and Ethics in the Classroom
History and Theory in Technical Communication Curricula
Johnson, Robert R. User-Centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. Print.