Irony in design

Are you a member of the STC? If you are remotely interested in technical communication, you ought to be.

I’ll elaborate on the STC’s virtues in another post. However, I would like to point out one of the benefits of being a member of the STC: Intercom magazine.

STC Members receive a monthly copy of Intercom, a magazine that “is published to provide practical examples and applications of technical communication that will promote its readers’ professional development.”

Unfortunately, Intercom doesn’t always succeed at providing good examples of technical communication. Case in point: the June 2004 issue of Intercom.

As you look at the cover, you see two headlines: (1) Writing for the Web; and (2) Letting Go of the Words. You also see a list of three articles included in this month’s issue: (1) Tabular Data: Finding the Best Format; (2) The Successes and Challenges of Visual Language; and (3) Making the Web Friendlier for Lower-literacy Users.

From this information, do you know what the theme for the issue is? I guess you can make a couple of assumptions, and contrive a theory as to what all the articles have in common.

Ironically enough, the theme for the issue is “document design.” This is prominently displayed on the contents page, and is listed on the header of all the related articles.

Why is this ironic? The idea behind good document design is that you give users the information that allows them to make good assumptions about the document. You provide visual indicators that help users assess the document.

I am fascinated that an issue of Intercom with an emphasis on document design would fail to indicate that theme on the cover of the issue! That is a major document design flaw!

The articles in the issue were fantastic, and I highly recommend them. I just wish the editor of Intercom would realize the document design faux pas in their document design issue.

P.S. If you are interested in document design, I highly recommend Robin William’s The Non-Designer’s Design Book (go to listing at It is a short, easy to read and easy to apply discussion of the four basic principles of good design (which you can easily remember by their first initials: C.R.A.P. – want more info? Read the book!).

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