Another Tack on the Docs

There’s been a great thread on SIGIA this last week or so on the good old subject of documentation. It’s incredible how diverse the approaches are. Some people are plugging away with ye olde Visio, while others are pioneering with things like Dreamweaver and even Together.

I, meanwhile, am in the midst of picking up some previous documentation done by somebody else (in fact two people, with two different approaches) and attempting to wrestle that down to meet some newer, and fortunately simpler, requirements, while preparing to allow the documents to get more complex with subsequent iterations. This has meant I’m thinking as much about how I’m doing things as what I’m doing.

Currently, the documents are mainly in Freehand for wireframes and other UI bits, and there’s a modules catalogue in Powerpoint. Of course, as the thread on SIGIA proves (if proof is even needed) – there are no good tools for doing what IAs need to do yet (but cue my now ritual keep-an-eye-on-this-one aside). Even so, I still think Freehand is an utter pain. And Powerpoint hardly seems a step forward.

Apropos of all this, I was introduced to Fireworks last week. It’s obviously trying to be a sort of webby Photoshop, not being page-based, but allowing you to create widgets with behaviours, etc. It can also do shared modules, and do them properly (not like Freehand – which can’t, and I don’t care what you say). And Fireworks’s native file format is layered PNGs.

Hmm. PNGs. Properly shared library elements (and localisable with it). What if I did my graphics in Fireworks, and linked them to an MS Word doc for the annotations? Seems to work nicely. I can also create clickable prototypes from the Freehand files on the side, without having to bother Word about it or re-create stuff.

An initial play about seems promising for this as an approach. With a quick Alt+TAB and a keystroke to refresh the links, it’s almost like using one application. I’m a bit suspicious of the layers in the PNG files though, and what Word might or might not do with them if I try sly things like adding layers that I don’t want to show with the annotations. Need to experiment more when I have some time (hopefully tomorrow) and get up to some kind of speed with Fireworks.

One day though, all this will seem like ludicrously clueless babbling. Actually, it is even now fairly ludicrous in the sense that there’s a whole industry out there that can’t even decide the basics of how to create their own paydirt. But that’s a good thing, and I’m glad I’m part of it just so I can tell my grandchildren that we once tried speccing websites with Powerpoint. “But that’s like trying to catch a rabbit with a broom!”

Couldn’t have put it better myself.