Tuesday, March 29, 2011
A number of years ago, Saul Carliner developed a three-part design model for technical communication that identifies physical, cognitive, affective activities performed while creating an information product. I've found the model useful when working with pre-professional engineers because it allows us (in the context of the technical writing class) to locate engineering design and development activities within a range of practices and activities defined as technical communication or information design. Most useful in these efforts is exposing the students to the physical design activities of the model.
Physical design occurs in the space between design and development; the preparation and creation of physical elements of an information product. In the context of an engineering project, physical design includes the core writing and editing activities performed by the engineer. The information that shapes physical design activities derives from the design documents created as a result of cognitive design activities. This type of product development (development based on pre-defined design criteria) allows the engineer to develop a product that meets specific needs and purposes.
The value of this model is that it allows the engineers to locate "meaning" within the design documents they create. To interpret the meaning between and among the structures of these documents, the engineers must understand these relationships in such a way as to present them for specific purposes (for example, the technical requirements of a product). In this regard, the engineers perform physical design activities to create the external forms through which users of their documents extract and construct meaning.