soap!, with a lowercase “s” and an exclamation mark (always!), is an intialy-Polish initiative aimed at building the technical communications market. Initially in Poland. However, since 2013 when the first ever soap! conference was held in Krakow, it has grown to include international speakers and audiences, and has engaged in completing international projects, as well as introducing more people to technical writing. Since that first ever soap! conference which was organized in about 3 months and attracted over 100 people in a country where technical communication has been a non-issue.
Technical communication is broader than UX, UI design, and technical writing (the creation of technical manuals). It encompasses training materials, but also feedback-gathering and a loop back into product development. It is the entirety of user experience and a two-way user interface. It gives the users an insight into the product, and it gives product developers an insight into the user.
How? A technical communicators take part in product development. They make sure whatever needs to be described in a manual, gets described. They also make sure the product is made simpler, so the user never has to open the manual. They try to optimize the user interface. They organize training sessions to let the users pick up the product and enjoy it. They make sure websites and applications include user on-boarding. They provide ideas on how to give the users assistance when it is needed most. They gather user feedback and tell the product team what needs to be improved. They are involved throughout the product life cycle.
That is all in theory. In practice, in Western Europe, in America, in Asia, where technical communication already has a history, it does not always work. Technical communicators are often pushed aside as a necessary evil. “We are legally obligated to ship user manuals, even though nobody reads them.” All that is a result of a manufacturer-centric business culture. A product-centric culture.
In Poland, technical communication started way later, in a user-centric business culture. Naturally, young people who became involved with technical communication quickly realized the Western way is not the way to go, so they decided to do things differently. That is why soap! began.
“Doing things differently” sounds like a cliche or a gimmick. For soap! it is neither. It is a strategy and a mission statement. soap! are young professionals and we want to use the advantage of being a late starter to build a completely new market. One where consulting companies do not just write manuals. One where technical communicators are not just ghostwriters. How?
We want to invite you to our 2014 conference which will bring together people who need technical communication with people who know it. We have invited project managers, product developers, business managers, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and more. We want them to mingle with technical writers, UX designers, translators, and learning developers. We will throw in some software developers and knowledge engineers for good measure and let everybody network. We hope there will be some cross-pollination of ideas. We know there will be at least some people who learn a new perspective on product development.
On top of that, we want to make sure Poland and the rest of the region knows that technical communication is a viable career option. And this is only the beginning. You have not even seen our true form yet (laughs ominously).
Want to join us? You can get all the info at http://soapconf.com/. We are hoping to see you there. We are hoping you will become a soaper. Peace!
Pawel Kowaluk is a Team Leader at Motorola Solutions Poland in Krakow
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