23 September 2011

Technical Communication UK 2011 (Day 1)

I thoroughly enjoyed my first day at Technical Communication UK 2011. Tuesday is ‘workshops day’, and I was spoilt for choice. After much deliberation, I finally settled on ‘Intuitive images: tips and techniques for creating and evaluating graphics in your products’ with Patrick Hofmann and ‘Can CAD destroy the art of technical illustration?’ with three (very patient) people from Altran Xype. (To see everything that was available, go to the Programme page on the website. Links to presentations and videos of some of the sessions will gradually be posted there, too.)

Patrick’s workshop managed to be entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. We all puzzled over some of the symbols, and it dawned on some of us that something ‘obvious’ is not necessarily representative – and may not make sense to a large percentage of the global population. Depending on the work that we do, some technical communicators may have little involvement with icons and symbols in that sense, but Patrick’s workshop covered other image-based communication, including flowcharts. I’ve come away with a lot of ideas (and, I’m pleased to say, some nice warm feelings that I’m getting at least some of it right).

The afternoon session was very different. Altran Xype have a product (3DVia Composer) that – if I understood correctly – enables technical communicators to make use of available CAD data to create the types of illustrations and animations that are needed when trying to explain or instruct. Workshop attendees were given a copy of the software prior to the event, so we could load it onto our laptops, and we spent at least half of the session trying it out.

I’m not a technical illustrator, and primarily document software – but there are times when something like this would be invaluable. How much better to be able to create the step-by-step diagrams myself, showing exactly what I need to be able to show, instead of relying on a flat image exported from a CAD system that isn’t at the right angle or that doesn’t show the detail that I’m describing. I’m certainly going to share information about this product with my customers, as I can see many uses for it in engineering and manufacturing.

As always, a huge part of TCUK is the calibre of the delegates – so many people to talk to, and so little time! The conversations over lunch, dinner, in the exhibition area and any time you find yourself sitting or standing next to someone make it fantastic. The only three days in the year when I can have a professional conversation with someone without having to try to explain what I do first!