I’ve spent the last three days inÂ downtown Minneapolis at theÂ national conference of the Society for Technical Communication. It’s the kind of place where you’ll see somebody wearing a hat that says “RTFM.”Â For those of you not in the know with that particular acronym, the kinder, gentler version is “RTM” Read the Manual.
Whisked fromÂ the wide-open spaces of my usual surroundings to the heart of downtown Minneapolis was quite a contrast. I did see one strip of green grass about as wide as half a sidewalk, but other than that, it was all pavement and concrete.
Technical writers sometime have a reputation for being picky or particular.Â OneÂ ofÂ the presentersÂ went way over the top. The session presented an approachÂ information layout. I needed a quick review of design principles, so I went. The first part was very good, this particular uber-geek, previously a Stanford physics doctorate, had a neat grid-based layout that resulted in neat, clean, uncluttered layouts.
Then he got into some topics that showed that the layout was more important than the content. His website is almost completely pdf files (just in case the viewer would change the font size in the browser, for accessibility issues, for example.)Â He locked his content in PDF so it could not vary in presentation from his design. Even his e-mails, he puts a hard return after each line so he’s sure where the lines break if the recipient has a wider or narrower e-mail pane open, and made sure the last line of each paragraph was as long as the lines above it. This, of course, requires adding or subtracting words from the paragrph to make sure the last line was the correct length. Fortunately there were a lot of groans in the audience for this obsessive-compulsive non-reader centered approach.