Editorial

From the Guest Editor

By Kit Brown-Hoekstra | STC Fellow

The future of technical communication is visual and interactive. This statement should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the changing demographics of the workforce, the maturation of the technology that facilitates visual experiences, and customer expectations. Universities, such as Colorado State University, are building interdisciplinary design centers to explore best practices and to research the psychological and ethical implications of such interactions. Heavy equipment manufacturers are already realizing the benefits of augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) on training and maintenance services. Airline pilots have been training with flight simulators for years, and the improvements in technology will continue to improve the training experience. Companies in other industries are also exploring how AR/VR can work for them.

This issue of Intercom explores how AR/VR might change the way technical communicators work and communicate in the coming decades. While only 5 percent of companies currently use AR/VR according to a recent survey by The Content Wrangler, many more are beginning to explore the possibilities. Tech Crunch, ABI Research, and Business Insider are predicting that by 2020 (just one year from now) the industry will grow to more than $100 billion dollars (Armfield et al., in this issue). We need to be ready when our companies start asking questions.

Ari Hoffman’s article, “Augmented Reality | 2025 | Where Content and Context Meet at Midnight,” provides us with a vision and a use case for how we might use AR/VR in our daily work. As you read, think about how content might need to be structured and integrated across organizations for this type of implementation to become a reality. What role will micro-content play, and how can we prepare today’s content so that it’s flexible enough to support tomorrow’s needs?

Cruce Saunders gives us practical advice for developing workflows that support AR/VR in his article, “Emerging Methods for AR/VR Content Workflows: Moving Content into Three-Dimensional Space,” and argues for ensuring that AR/VR “have a place in the intelligent, modular content ecosystem.” Some of the areas where AR/VR initiatives are already gaining traction include quality assurance, product and experience testing, and automated troubleshooting.

Dawn Armfield, Ann Hill Duin, and Isabel Pedersen discuss the importance of a journey mindset when developing immersive content. The technologies to support AR/VR and the demand for such products and services is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years. Their article, “Immersive Content in Technical Communication: A Journey Mindset,” discusses the importance of participatory design and empathy in developing these products, as well as what characteristics need to be part of this process.

In “Has Narrative Found a Challenge in Virtual Reality?” Michael Humphrey discusses the how AR/VR experiences and narratives can enhance each other. He touches on brain science and the ethics of engagement. These are important considerations in the development of AR/VR, and this article provokes more questions than it answers. Future discussions should expand to focus on the ethics and recommended practices for implementing AR/VR.

Kaden Strand discusses some of the tools being used to create AR/VR products, many of which borrow from the realm of game design. His article, “Sharing Ideas in Mixed Reality,also talks about how we can lower the barrier of entry as technology matures.

In her article, “A Mixed Reality Model for Immersive Learning Environments,” Myra Travin proposes a transitional model for creating immersive learning environments as a way of reaping some of the advantages of AR/VR without breaking the budget.

Finally, in “Machine Vision and Augmented Reality,” Elizabeth Losh points out some of the problems that can arise in AR/VR and machine learning when we use the wrong algorithms to produce an AR/VR experience.

This issue of Intercom is just the beginning of the discussion as we start examining the potential impact of AR/VR, not only on the ways in which we work and interact with our content, but also on the skills we need. Along the way, we also grapple with the ethical and accessibility considerations and the practical issues of creating strategies and architecture that support AR/VR.

Resources

Abel, Scott. The Content Wrangler 2019 Technical Information Industry Benchmarking Report.

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