Apr 262015
CrossroadsPhoto by Dominic Alves. CCby2.0

Learnability is a discipline at the crossroads of technical communication and usability. But what is learnability? Why is it important? How can we measure it? And how can technical writers and user experience practitioners work together to improve the learnability of products?

These are a few of the questions that Chauncey Wilson, User Experience Architect at Autodesk, will explore at the joint meeting for the New England chapter of the STC and Boston CHI on Tuesday, May 12. Autodesk is hosting the event at their office in Waltham, Mass., starting at 6:30 p.m.

Usability + Technical Communication

Many Boston CHI members know Wilson for his work in the field of user experience and usability. He has taught usability courses at Bentley University, and he has worked in the field for decades.

Chauncey Wilson

What you may not know, however, is that Wilson is also an Associate Fellow at STC, and he served as president of the Northern New England chapter of STC for several years. During that time, Wilson brought in speakers to expose technical writers to the field of usability. When he worked at Digital Equipment Corporation, Wilson led a project that examined the usability of technical documentation. During a restructuring at DEC, he also helped writers to make the transition into usability and UI design.

“I have always believed that, whether you call it User Assistance or Technical Documentation, it’s all part of the user interface,” said Wilson. “Technical writers and UX folks have some different skills, but they are complementary, and we share lots of cross-over skills. We are all user advocates, and learnability is where we can work together to achieve common goals.”

Learning about Learnability

Image by Proposed Solutions. CCby2.0

Frustrated Computer User

“Learnability is an important aspect of usability, yet there is little agreement on exactly what it is,” said Wilson. “As consumers, we have so many choices today. If I get frustrated and can’t learn something quickly, I’ll put it down and find another product that is easier to learn. So learnability is a huge part of customer satisfaction, and we need to pay close attention to it, and work to make it easier for our users.”

But there is more to learnability than overcoming the initial learning curve. “In addition to supporting the novice,” explained Wilson, “we also need to support the advanced user who continues to learn new areas of the product to improve performance.” UX and TechComm can work together to make sure this happens. “Every part of the user interface, including icons, labels, and other text, work together to provide information to users to help them along the way. By working together, UX folks and technical writers can use their respective disciplines to improve the user interface, strengthening the learnability of the product. And when a product is more learnable, it builds loyalty, so customers are less likely to go to a competitor.”

Diving into the Details

In the presentation, Wilson plans to dig into the practical side of learnability. He will describe different types of learnability and methods for measuring it. Wilson will also lead a discussion of principles, guidelines, and patterns that can be applied to support learnability and that focus on both the user interface and learning content. UX practitioners and technical communicators will come away with information that they can start to use right away.

Join us on May 12

Wilson presents “The Many Faces of Learnability” on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, at Autodesk, 1560 Trapelo Road, Waltham, MA. The event starts with networking and pizza (sponsored by Autodesk) at 6:30 p.m., and the presentation begins at 7:00, ending at 8:30. More networking follows, along with dessert sponsored by Vitamin T, until 9 p.m.

The event is free of charge, but you must pre-register to attend. Space is limited. Register now so you don’t miss out. Plan to join us for this relevant and exciting event!

To register, go to http://bostonchistcnemay2015.eventbrite.com.

Crossroads photo by Dominic Alves. CC by 2.0
Frustrated Computer User illustration by Proposed Solution. CC by 2.0

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