Talking Usability: The Foundation of Innovation

by David Dick on 13 January 2014

During the holidays, I saw a line of people sitting on the sidewalk in front of Best Buy. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to stand in line for something, I asked the greeter at Best Buy why everyone was sitting on front of the store. The greeter told me that they were waiting for the release of PlayStation 4 at midnight. Apparently, PlayStation 4 has better graphics and a faster processor than PlayStation 3. I don’t own any PlayStations so I wasn’t able to share in the thrill and anticipation of this momentous occasion. That was mid-December, and since then Best Buy has plenty of PlayStation 4s to sell.

We get excited whenever a company releases the latest version of something. Upon closer look, the newest version only has a few enhancements because advances in technology made them possible. Does that mean we should stop using the old version? Not really, but you will probably save your money to afford the new version anyway, and as soon as you do there will be another version that’s even better.

From time to time, a company will release a product never seen before and consumers will wonder if it’s something they need or must have. In a short time, consumers will either make the product a hit or a miss. If the product is a hit, another company will market a similar product—but it’s easier to use. Then one day, it becomes obsolete—yesterday’s news—because something even better on the market. This is called “innovation.”

Innovation is about improving on what somebody else did (e.g., improving the user experience and making it compatible with something else). Edison improved the light bulb, which made them last longer. Steven Wozniak invented the Apple I and Apple II, which contributed to the microcomputer revolution. Jeff Bezos played a key role in revolutionizing e-commerce, setting standards for e-commerce sites to follow. There is a downside of innovation—it happens so fast that some people don’t understand it. That’s where we come in.

Our role as technical communicators is to educate users about the latest innovations. We will meet people who are not savvy about the latest tool or technology and we will need to train them. We will meet people afraid of making mistakes and we will need to help them overcome their fears and teach them how to make educated guesses. We will consider their ideas about how something works—better yet, how something should work—into consideration when we create user guides, help files, and tutorials.

I’m David Dick and I’m Talking Usability.

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