Review: Adobe Technical Communications Suite 2017, UI, UX, and Techcomm

Updated: 1 May 2015

Last month I wrote about an article by Linn Vizard that I saw on the Adobe Creative Cloud blog about the Evolution of Buttons in UX Design.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the article for personal reasons, I highlighted the article because UI and UX have become hot topics in tech comm. It’s not surprising that UI and UX are a big part of the latest release of the Adobe Technical Communications Suite.

UI/UX is one of the fastest growing sub-domains in technical writing because documentation contributes to the user experience. Technical writers are called upon to explain how to use a product’s user interface. To this end, technical communicators have been looking to the UI/UX discipline within the larger field of computer science to help.

UI changes are inevitable and as users of software we’ve become accustomed to seeing changes in the software we use every day. It’s tough because humans are inclined to resist change. Those of us who are power users have developed strong muscle memory (in mouse movements to familiar menus and shortcut keys for high-touch actions) and whenever the UI changes it’s not surprising that the discomfort of the new environment makes us unhappy. Luckily, the discomfort doesn’t last long, especially when the changes are aesthetically pleasing to the eye–smoothing over the disconnects–and improve our productivity.

Last month when Adobe revealed the latest release of the Technical Communications suite, we saw what the talented engineering team has been working on: Streamlining and improving the user experience for all the products in the suite. Menus have been reorganized and connections to repositories and project files benefit from improved drag and drop, content filtering, and overall faster access to those features technical writers use constantly.

I’m a mouser. For me the muscle memory involved in moving the mouse to the new menu is stronger than the memory of specific key combinations. I know that’s not true for many other people: Some of you are keyboard shortcut power users. In this release, it’s easy to be either one of us. Keyboard shortcuts are right there on the menu. You can get in and get out quickly and efficiently. Small changes like this can really make a difference. Weren’t we just talking about techcomm and UI? It’s not surprising that Adobe has taken up the challenge to really focus on improving the UI and the improved user experience that comes as a result.

For me, one of other highly useful changes is that you can now work in Structured or Unstructured mode without any special configurations or settings. Open your document or create a new one and get right to work! I’ve been known to switch things up a bit here and there. And I would always forget to toggle the switch before starting up. I’d kick myself every time.

The other thing that I found improved was the DITA cross-reference interface. When I wrote the books I published last summer, I found that working with keys, conrefs and conkeyrefs can give you a headache if the user interface doesn’t support your workflow. This is, in fact, one of the greatest fears of new writers approaching DITA for the first time. In the latest release, the DITA cross-reference interface is all merged into the pod interface. You can easily and quickly look for the right cross-reference target for insertion into your text.

This same kind of experience holds true for graphics, find and replace, and working with the ever important character, paragraph, and element catalogs. The UI is clean with new icons for a modern, smooth visual experience. It feels familiar and comfortable even though it’s different than what you may have been used to. That discomfort you’re used to feeling whenever your favorite vendor changes their UI? In this case it’s just your natural human instinct to resist change…Don’t worry, it won’t last long. At. All.

The user experience changes flow through to the workspace and the publishing workflows. In the workspace, the new pods are adjustable and configurable. It’s a new way to think about combining user workflow and high-touch activities. It might take you a day or two to get used to, but it starts to feel natural for power users pretty quickly.) In the publishing workflow, content production is cleaner and simpler. It cleans up after itself and output loads a lot faster.

The only thing I haven’t gotten to spend a lot of time with was Presenter. I’m a total newbie at it. I’ve never really had the opportunity to use it before. Video is on the list of priorities for us here at Single-Sourcing Solutions this year. I’m really looking forward to spending time with it this year. I may have more useful things to say about it once I’ve had a chance to really dig into the product and create high-quality content with it.

Disclaimer

We are an affiliate in several advertising channels and ads for Adobe products may appear on our site. In addition, I received a complimentary, limited-time, license for the Adobe Technical Communications Suite 2017 in exchange for my being able to use, test, and trial the software in order to write this post. However, no other compensation was received in exchange for this review. It is my pleasure to participate for the benefit of our communities and to experience the skill of the engineering team’s work in this latest release.

Update!

Want more on that user experience dedication Adobe shows? Despite just releasing TCS 2017, they’ve already incorporated feedback from the user community:

We have implemented a lot of Feedback that we got from you. Some modal dialogs were rolled back to non-modal pods, working with the language drop-down in Character and Paragraph Designer is more easy now (all language names in English instead of their native language names), there is a completely new “Sort Table” dialog, the “Show Element Context” dialog is resizable now, “Command Search” works better now in multi-monitor scenarios, save as “View Only” is back and a lot more.

I have gathered all the changes in this blog post:
http://blogs.adobe.com/techcomm/2017/04/framemaker-2017-update-1.html

~ Stefan Gentz of Adobe on the Framers mailing list on 1 May 2017.

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Author: Liz Fraley

Liz Fraley has founded two companies, sits on the boards of three non-profits, and is constantly coming up with new ways to share knowledge in the technical communications and content industries. https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethfraley/

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