While technical communication has roots in the rhetorical tradition, it also has been influenced by positivism and computationalism, which, unlike rhetoric, treat facts separately from values and isolate information from social contexts by organizing data into digital ‘bits.’ Technical communicators uncritical of such assumptions may unintentionally design information inappropriate for their audiences’ social values or their users’ situation. To illustrate, this paper analyzes a case study of technical communication graduate students who worked on an information design project that ultimately failed.
As a case study, the information design project demonstrates the need for cognitive and ecological considerations in technical communication. To show the importance of such considerations, this paper conducts an interdisciplinary study with a four-part inquiry: (1) a description of the case study to show what problem the information design tried to address; (2) a cognitive task analysis of the information design to reveal the technical communication grad students’ assumptions during the project; (3) some theoretical reflections from cognitive science and their implications for information design; and (4) a discussion about what the students could recommend in the end, including implications about how technical communicators should think about media ecology in the context of uncertainty.
Information Design and Uncertain Environments: Cognitive and Ecological Considerations in Technical Communication.
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