Highlights from “Designing technical documentation for tablets” Webinar


This week Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf shared many insights and considerations for creating technical documentation for tablet computers that you may not have thought of before. This blog has a link to the full slide deck below  and at the end of the blog, a link to a recording of the webinar itself.

What makes tablet devices different?

Although the three main competitors in the tablet sector are Apple, Google (Android) and Microsoft, they have certain features in common that make them quite different from other devices:

  • They are (almost) intuitive to use
  • Relatively long battery life
  • Highly portable (including much easier use on airplanes
  • Enable “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device)
  • Retina screen
  • Very light weight

Advantages to recent tablet screens

The “Retina” screen displays greater contrast and is closer to paper in display than a traditional computer screen. Tablet proportions can quickly change from portrait to landscape with rotating screens. Tablet screen sizes can differ.

Some assumptions to abandon

Based on years of working with paper or traditional computer screens, many of us have assumed the TOC must be on the left, and that “Scrolling vertically is better” … this is no longer true. Most table users are accustomed to horizontal swipes to page through content, much like a book.

Some print composition theories may work

Since horizontal tablet display give real estate to work with open to a 2 page magazine “spread” it can sometimes make sense to use press print theory established by the likes of Kress and Van Leeuven. Decades of research have established eye tracking on paper, similar to the “heat maps” many of us are familiar with for websites.

Why we can work differently with tablets: (a) some print composition techniques now work on these screens, (b) a horizontal paper metaphor works, (c) right-sided navigation is possible. “Deep learning” on the screen is now possible, as tablet screens can show a similar amount of in depth content as paper pages.

Tablets are “haptic”

  • Devices can vibrate
  • Devices can be aware of user location
  • You can pinch and zoom some content

Techcomm view of 3 uses for tablets

  • Mobile apps
  • Mobile web
  • Mobile documents

Myriad issues with tablet “help”

The first tablets were thought to be so intuitive that they didn’t need help. This has proven to be not quite true. “Flow-based” User Assistance is being studied more closely, and Apple has patented a Help model for tablets. Ellis has a slide that directs the viewer to a Gallery of Help examples.

PDFs can work well on tablets

PDFs can work well for rich, complex, traditional technical documents. PDF can be read in Acrobat Reader, as an iBook, on Kindle and other devices. You can “pinch and zoom”. File size can be surprisingly modest.

ePub in the future?

Rapidly evolving standards like HTML5 and ePub indicate that the following features will soon become common:

  • embedded fonts
  • CSS3
  • Nested tables
  • Boxed elements
  • SVG graphics
  • Text popups
  • Fixed layouts

A “SIMPLES” strategy

(modified from an acronym from H/T Keren Okman, SAP)

  • Scaleable  (to different sizes)
  • Intuitive to the user
  • Mobile-friendly
  • Platform-agnostic
  • Legalese (right for the platform)
  • Engaging (to the user)
  • Single sources (re-usable, extensible content)

Changes we can expect in the near future

  • User Assistance will still be there, but in different places
  • We’ll need to deliver content on different devices, in different formats
  • We’ll be using some new (and old) design metaphors
  • Help Authoring tools and HTML5 will solve a lot of the problems we see today

View the webinar online

You can view Ellis Pratt’s entire presentation on “Future of TechComm series: Designing technical documentation for tablets“. You will need credentials from a free Adobe.com account to view this or any other recorded


Posted on 06-27-2012

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