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Toward Productive Disruption in Technical Communication

Just as compositionists are reimagining academic and professional writing instruction by having students compose multimodally—and have yielded meaningful outcomes—we should rethink technical communication pedagogy' to focus less on genres (memos, feasibility reports, instruction manuals, user guides, research reports, etc.). We should, as Miles Kimball (2017) proposed, help students to learn “to use technologies of communication to bring about practical change” (p. 350). Both design thinking making are ideally situated to help do that.

Design thinking exposes students to problem-based learning and hands-on problem solving. Its attributes cultivate a user-centered mindset and its methodology helps students exercise an iterative design for continuous improvement. This design-centric approach to technical communication pedagogy can help revitalize our curriculum by paying attention to both process and product, creating a more holistic development of technical communicators. It will also help technical communication programs to stay connected with industry' practices by integrating design thinking with courses across different areas, including technical editing, content strategy, publication management, information architecture, user experience research, interaction design, documentation, and others.

Powered by design thinking, making foregrounds the materiality of problem solving and helps technical communication students understand the object dimension of problems. Through prototyping, students learned to identify the affordances and limitations in their different tools and materials, gaining an additional competency that is desirable in today’s entrepreneurial culture. Making also fosters an environment for learning where individuals share ideas, experiment different approaches, and work on projects together. For technical communication, making invites learners to combine resources to tackle complex communicative issues. Such tendency is deemed favorable by public and private sectors today where collective intelligence (Levy, 2000) is considered valuable in social capital. Thus, to integrate such learning with technical communication pedagogy is to prepare students for their professional futures, where collaboration and cross- fimctional teams are already commonplace.

Together, making and design thinking spur innovations that respond to socio- technical issues. Students and practitioners alike can take on wicked problems in technical communication (and beyond) through design challenges, which employ design thinking principles and maker culture. As user advocates, technical communicators should embrace social innovation as part of their professional responsibilities. As I have discussed in a previous chapter and in this conclusion, such productive disruption is necessary for today’s social conditions. Technical communicators should “disrupt the future” (Jones, Moore, & Walton, 2016) using their socially and human-centered design skills and the available tools for meaningful changemaking. Our profession is fertile for such leadership and direction.

Summary and Future Directions

The future of technical communication should see its constituents as leaders in radical innovation for solving complex problems. In this book, I have taken up the question, “What can design thinking offer technical communication?” and I followed the social advocacy trajectory in current technical communication scholarship as a way to address this question. I have introduced and described design thinking as a mindset and a methodology for social innovation, which led to the focus on making as a pedagogical strategy for teaching user-centered design as well as a collaborative approach to solving problems. The pages between these covers have provided ethnographic findings, expert insights, pedagogical results, and self-study discovery that showcase the values of making and design thinking for technical communication. Adopting design thinking and making in our pedagogy and professional practice can help invigorate and modernize our approaches to technical communication but more importantly they keep us focused on the users.

In closing, I recommend the following research questions to further investigate the affordances (and limitations) of design thinking and making:

  • • What research method/ologies are most useful for studying design thinking and making processes? What should be our object(s) of study?
  • • How can the design thinking phases be updated to better facilitate technical communication needs or development?
  • • How can rhetorical thinking be integrated with design thinking and making?
  • • How can design thinking and making be more inclusive? How can we better include multiply-minoritized voices in design thinking and making?
  • • What innovative approaches might we take to promote (radical) collaboration?
  • • How can social innovation and social justice advocacy be emphasized in our profession?

These questions can serve as entry points toward productive research and exploration. There are certainly more questions pertaining to specific interest areas. I look forward to reading more findings and discussions from our field in the near future.

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