What is the work of information engineers and technical writers all about, and how it can change the product experience for its users? To find out, we talked to Ulla Einarsson, a highly experienced information expert, and to Hasse Carlsson, an information engineer and technical writer at Sigma Technology, who switched to this area a couple of years ago after a 26+ year career in a theater dramaturg.
Ulla, you have been working in the field of product information for 20 years, holding positions of a technical writer, project manager, information analyst, requirement analyst, and information tools analyst, and now you are a unit manager in Product Information at Sigma Technology Information AB.
Why did you choose technical writing and product information in the first place?
Ulla: I have always liked technology but also writing. I see writing as a method to sort my thoughts. Besides, the challenge of making consumers use the technology the right way is very interesting to me. I can relate to it in my own life. When I use technology, I am very impatient and don’t like to read a lot of text, so if the manual or product is not intuitive enough, I get frustrated. It may happen when technical writers or usability designers do not succeed in their work. A technical writer should help the end-users avoid feeling like that.
What is driving you in your work through the years?
Ulla: I am very interested in new technologies, having a broad understanding of how everything works and is connected. This is what I have to practice and constantly learn about in all the roles connected to technical information.
It is rewarding to work on big or new products when everyone involved is an expert on their part, but no one really knows the big picture. To gather knowledge from many sources and write an overall guide or set up an information model is a thrill. It is always fun when you and others can say: “finally, I got the bigger picture.”
Why are information and user analysis important for our clients?
Hasse: Information and user group analysis is a method to learn more about the different user groups that will meet the product once it is delivered to the market. It is important for product makers to understand different user groups and to be aware of the specific needs of each group. Who are they? What will they do with a product? When will they use the product and need the information? What is the best way for them to access the information at that specific moment?
Being unable to use the functions of a product, a customer will not be fully satisfied with the product, which can drastically influence the business in a harmful manner.
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What are the most common problems and pitfalls you identify when you analyze a company’s information?
Hasse: Usually, all necessary information is available in the same place, but most people do not know where to find it. The information needs to be accessible and regularly updated so the user can understand how to find it.
How can organizations prepare for information analysis, and how is it performed?
Hasse: The first step is to define all user groups for their product. Who are those users within the groups? There can be different kinds of customer groups and groups of service, installation, and maintenance personnel. The organization should get a clear understanding of users’ role segregation, i.e., which group will perform certain actions with the product and which information they would need to access.
Ulla: An effective method is often to interview people with different perspectives about their needs. Sometimes it may be hard to get access to the actual users, then you should find talkative people from different places in the organization with knowledge about the users and the product and perform an interview with them.
Do you have an example of how information analysis improved our client’s product information?
Ulla: A common problem for a user is finding the required information since the amount of information constantly grows. Therefore, apart from analyzing what information is needed, how to present it, and so on, we always investigate what information is not needed. Eliminating unnecessary information has improved the overall information quality and accessibility for several of our customers.
Hasse: Technology develops… Our need for information and the ways we access information change as well. At Sigma, we are experts on combining traditional working methods with the latest tools and systems for technical product information. A great example of successfully performed information and user analysis is a digital user guide for a Lynk & Co car. The content in the guide is aimed at the brand’s target audience and matches the brand’s tone of voice and style, ensuring that end-users get the information they need right now.
What are you looking for when hiring an information engineer for your team?
Ulla: apart from the most obvious things like having a talent for writing in English, being able to structure information, and having an analytic technical mindset, you also need to like to talk to people to gather the information you need. It helps to be good at building networks and asking the right questions. And, of course, it is necessary to be good at understanding the user’s needs.