Multiscreen Help Authoring: Dealing with the explosion in device sizes

Tuesday, October 23 2012 @ 12:29 PM, By Maxwell Hoffmann

This week a smaller, leaner, meaner iPad was introduced by Apple, increasing the number and type of tablet or mobile devices that we must all eventually publish to. The challenges can seem daunting at first. Fortunately, seasoned user-assistance thought pioneer, Joe Welinske, has authored a highly useful White Paper. You may download and review “Multiscreen Help Authoring / How to deal with the explosion in device sizes” by clicking here. Note that you will need an I.D. and password from a free Adobe.com account to access the White Paper.

This blog touches on several key concepts from the White Paper; Welinske also addressed many of these issues in an Adobe sponsored webinar, which you will find the link for at the end of this blog.

The iPhone effect

Welinske reminds us that for the past 3 decades, software designers for PCs have had a fairly static canvas to work with, screens that ranged from about 10 to 14 inches diagonally. Everything changed about 5 and a half years ago with the release of the iPhone and the subsequent release of Android and other devices. Tablets soon followed with the iPad in 2010. Overnight, our customers became accustomed to consuming data “on the move” that was previously confined to PDF, paper or HTML on the web. (Well, there were *.chm files too.)

The proliferation of tablets and decent sized smart phones seemed to spread literally overnight. Apps are now developed for devices ranging from 2 inches in size to 80 inch home entertainment screens. As Welinke makes clear “we need to address the wide and growing fragmentation of devices.” The ideal solution is to “match the amount and the type of content with a particular device.”

Unfortunately (as I’ve addressed in a couple of conference presentation) our native instincts are often to try to simply “reshape” existing content intended for full screen or PDF/page display onto a screen the size of a large candy bar, or at best the size of a small steno pad.

HTML5 provides hope as a sensible solution

To quote Welinske’s White Paper:

One possible solution lies in the emergence of HTML5. Partnered with CSS3 and JavaScript, and with the support of browser makers, HTML5 offers a way to single-source content in an intelligent and scalable way.

Welinske advocates a single-source set of files rendered through device specific cascading style sheets. He points out that the design of these style sheets and media queries is a very important new skill.

The diagram below, borrowed from Welinske’s White Paper, illustrates that your multiple platforms are not that complex, if you group them into buckets.

Style sheets for optimal, device specific display

Welinke’s webinar and White Paper both deal with the important goal of ensuring that you design style sheets so that they optimally adjust the content based on the screen dimensions of the device. Media query is one topic touched on in both webinar and White Paper.

Strategic conclusions for a multi-device strategy

The following cogent advice is provided by Welinske at the conclusion of this White Paper:

As you move forward, consider the following:

  • Adopt a system that gracefully adapts its information presentation.
  • Simplify and focus your content development with a single-source core.
  • Adjust to varying device types by separating presentation from content with HTML, CSS, and Media
  • Query.
  • As a final note, look into the ‘mobile-first’ approach being espoused by Luke Wroblewski and others.

Review a recorded webinar for even more information

You may view the AdobeTCS webinar, “Multi-screen Help Authoring” which featured Joe Welinske as a guest by clicking here. In this webinar you will several dynamic examples of a single set of source files being published to multiple devices via the methods described in the White Paper referenced at the beginning of this blog.

Seeking a solution? Give RoboHelp 10 a test drive

Many of the requirements and recommendations that Welinske makes in his thesis closely intersect with basic RoboHelp 10 functionality. You may wish to review the RoboHelp product page, which has a variety of resources, from links to videos, blogs, other White Papers and more. You may also test drive Tech Comm Suite 4 and RoboHelp 10 without download or installation by clicking here, and completing a simple on-line form.

Information about Joe Welinske

Joe Welinske specializes in helping your software development effort through crafted communication. The best user experience features quality words and images in the user interface. The UX of a robust product is also enhanced through comprehensive user assistance. This includes Help, wizards, FAQs, videos and much more. For over twenty-five years, Joe has been providing training, contracting, and consulting services for the software industry.

Joe recently published the book, Developing User Assistance for Mobile Apps. He also teaches courses for Bellevue College, the University of California, and the University of Washington. Check out the Events page for upcoming classes and industry presentations

 

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