ASTC-NSW day 2: Six step system to winning documentation using graphics

This weekend I attended the ASTC-NSW 2010 conference in Sydney. These are the notes that I took during a session by David Keen. All the credit for the content and ideas goes to David. Any mistakes are mine.

David Keen presented a session called, “Six step system to winning documentation using graphics” and sub-titled, “Interior decorating and the art of documentation”.

At the start of his talk, David stood silent for ten seconds, looking occasionally at his watch. Then he said,

That was ten seconds of silence. No words.

David pointed out that we started to form an opinion of him in those ten seconds. Words aren’t always necessary. Appearances matter.

What makes things look good?

Having a theme gives things consistency.

David’s presentation was very practical. He showed us a number of slides illustrating some interior decorating, and asked us to look for the elements of consistency in the design. Then we applied those elements to graphics in documentation. Here are the elements of consistency that we discussed.

1) Shape. Make sure your shapes are consistent.

2) Size and proportion. Keep a theme, for example standardising on big items or small items.

  • One example is lines and borders. David prefers thick borters rather than thin.
  • Don’t be afraid to use variations, such as a dotted line rather than solid, but retaining the consistency in size.
  • Another example is keeping your screenshots the same size.

3) Colour.

  • Use contrasting colours for callouts, to distinguish them from the screenshots themselves.
  • Work with colour palettes.
  • Here’s a good tip: The website will work out the contrasting colour for you.

4) Angles.

  • Use matching angles. Don’t have a multitude of angles.
  • For example, use parallel lines in your callouts, aligned to something on the screen.
  • For simplicity, use 45 degree angles.

5) Alignment.

  • For example, in a callout you should align arrows at the corners of the boxes.
  • Or align the edges of the callouts and screens: right-align or left-align.

6) Resolution.

  • Consider your medium. For eLearning or web, lower resolution is fine. For print it must be higher.
  • Consider your file types too. PNGs or GIFs are good for graphics, where JPGs are good for photos.

7) A suggestion from the audience: Use white space effectively too.

Documentation and video

Finally, David gave us a “bonus” insight: The future of documentation is video. He played a video that he had produced, to demonstrate the automated bag drop system at Qantas. The target audience was Qantas staff. He talked about how effective it was in showing the them what the system does. They got it straight away, whereas they had fallen asleep when trying to understand the system during conventional training.

My conclusion

Thank you David for a great, interactive session and some useful tips on how to make our documentation and graphics look better. This session was filmed, and we were told that it will be downloadable off the web in the near future. I’ll be interested to see the video of the session too.


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 1 November 2010, in ASTC, technical writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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