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Document Usability, Pt. 3: Identifying the challenges for government & business

November 25, 2013

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In the last post on Document Usability, Part II of this discussion, we broke things down to examine the definition of usability. Hopefully that shed more light in understanding its applicability in the world of documentation.

Specifically, in the world of government documents — while effective usability has the potential to appear in many types of forms and functions — at the end of the day it still provides the singular purpose of helping users access and absorb information in less time.

The primary purpose of government documentation is to serve the many users and stakeholders of those documents, with the public being the primary stakeholders (oh, and speaking of which — there’s the analysis of “documents” versus “documentation” — but I’ll spare you the pain today). Certainly staff, elected officials, and other interest groups use and interact with government documents. However, it’s the public who bankroll the creation of these documents, so it seems only appropriate that a wide net be cast to accommodate the makeup of that audience.

There’s a number of challenges in this. Read more…

My Conversation with Graham Nash

November 24, 2013

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Graham Nash made an appearance at the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle on Friday of this weekend, Nov. 22. The subject was his new memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, released earlier this year.

A Q&A interview went on for about 45 minutes before things turned to the audience for a few questions. Throughout the segment he spoke of his humble upbringing in the post-war UK, early musical influences such as The Everly Brothers, the years as a member of The Hollies, and of course the formation of CSN with newly available musicians from other bands that had dissolved at the time; David Crosby (from The Byrds) and Steven Stills (from Buffalo Springfield).

There was some discussion of the music scene in Laurel Canyon near Los Angeles in the early 70s, and what was going on with other musicians in the community such as Read more…

Document Usability, Pt. 1: An introduction for government & business

November 11, 2013

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Through more than a decade in town planning, I always tried to figure out ways to make a planner’s day easier. Let’s face it. Government documents can be cumbersome beasts to work with, and that’s not the fault of policy planners, consultants, or writers as much as the highly technical nature of the content and the edict of state mandates in document structure.

This is 110% an issue of usability. Most folks would rather spend an afternoon with a dentist’s drill in their mouth than interface with government documents. Zoning codes, comprehensive plans, capital facilities plans and the like can make a staff member’s head spin as much as the citizen who comes into city hall with an inquiry.

I’ve written about usability in government and business documentation in previous posts. Read more…

Planning and a Patient Public: Anticipating the New Seattle Waterfront

July 18, 2015

Bertha on the move again? It appears to be finally happening.

After lots of stalled action on renewing Seattle’s waterfront (with the Bertha faux pas that went on, and on, and on….), part of the process of replacing a double-Decker swine of a freeway that’s orphaned and compromised the city’s waterfront for decades — literally less than three months into the Eisenhower presidency in April 1953 — there’s hope for progress on the horizon.

Bertha will start boring again in November. With a little luck.

I’m not here to complain, rather than to celebrate optimism in this project moving forward. That said, I can’t imagine the frustration the Seattle public must be feeling in their anticipation of reclaiming their waterfront, not to mention the businesses affected by the delays in this project. Unfortunately it’s part of what happens when the planning world morphs into active mode, when shovels go into the ground….sometimes there’s unforeseen circumstances, delays and goofs.

Bertha taking an unanticipated prolonged break from work.

Bertha taking an unanticipated prolonged break from work.

Katherine Fung’s article on the gradual (and painstakingly slow) death of the imposing freeway in our American cities is a great analysis of how planners are helping to move communities toward more livable, walkable and viable urban spaces.

The imagery and sight of this project’s finale sends chills up my spine. As I spoke to the Seattle City Council over a decade ago during a public hearing — advising them to place the freeway underground in an effort to reclaim and open up the Seattle waterfront — the city is looking at a future where it’s image and livability will be further bolstered with an active and vibrant public space in the likes of Grant Park (Chicago) or Fisherman’s Wharf (San Francisco).

I can’t wait for Seattle and its out of town visitors to begin enjoying its new outdoor living room on the waterfront.

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Document Usability, Pt. 2: What exactly is “Usability?”

November 24, 2013

Usability is like oxygen. You don’t notice it until its missing. –Unknown

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

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So….try to contain your excitement on this topic, if you can. :)

However, if you’re here reading, and a government official such as a planner or a business professional, it’s worth your time to review this before further examination of your in-house functions and needs with your documentation.

What exactly do we mean by “usability” in documentation? Perhaps you haven’t put much thought into it, but as a technical writer and usability specialist, that’s part of my job.

First, let’s take a step back by looking at the definition of usability. Read more…

“Your 21st Century Marketing Strategy” comes to the ASI Rocky Mountain chapter this Oct. 26

October 2, 2013

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Repeating from earlier this year at ASI’s national conference in San Antonio, Paul’s marketing workshop will be featured at ASI’s Rocky Mountain chapter annual meeting on Sat. October 26.

The workshop, “Your 21st Century Marketing Strategy,” expands on the San Antonio event last April, which developed from a presentation Paul co-hosted with Steven Ingle of WordCo at the same industry conference in San Diego in 2012. While Paul and Steven focused on how to develop client relationships, Paul expanded the focus to include planning and preparation in marketing through a three hour workshop. Read more…

Chicago expansion!

October 1, 2013

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I know your first thought. That’s not it. The Windy City hasn’t added another pro hockey franchise with a secret agenda of dividing the Blackhawks faithful.

The company has just opened a Chicago area branch! A presence here is a perfect fit for the company.

First off, the history of urban planning in Chicago is unrivaled in the country. The 1892/93 World’s Fair launched the City Beautiful Movement, which many would argue rests as the golden age in urban planning. The 1909 Plan of Chicago, written by architect Daniel Burnham, was also the first of its kind. Today, the American Planning Association (APA) has its national headquarters in the city, and also houses the Planners Press.

There’s some big publishing muscle in the town. Prominent publishers such as the University of Chicago Press are here, along with a plethora of technical writing and editing talent….and that doesn’t start into the numerous small presses, book packagers, and general writing and authoring brain power that can be found in the Chicago area.

The new branch is near the historic college town of Naperville, just west of the city. Contact information for our new Chicago area branch may be found on theĀ contact page of Top Hat Word & Index.

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