SIGDOC was founded in 1975 by Joe Rigo. In 2001, in the ACM Journal of Computer Documentation (Vol. 25, No. 2), Rigo published a brief article describing the founding effort (PDF). Other “reminiscing” pieces have been published by past Chairs Diana Patterson (PDF), R. John Brockmann (PDF), and Kathy Haramundanis (PDF). See also Past Chair Brad Mehlenbacher’s 2011 proceedings piece titled, “The Evolution of Communication Design: A Brief History of the ACM SIGDOC” (DOI / PDF).

What is Design of Communication?

Written by Liza Potts in the 2013 SIGDOC Annual Report

Until 2003, ACM SIGDOC focused on documentation for hardware and software. With the shift in focus from documentation to the “design of communication,” SIGDOC better positioned itself to emphasize the potentials, the practices, and the problems of multiple kinds of communication technologies, such as Web applications, user interfaces, and online and print documentation.

SIGDOC focuses on the design of communication as it is taught, practiced, researched, and theorized in various fields, including technical communication, software engineering, information architecture, and usability.

While the name change for the DOC portion of SIGDOC has created some degree of less clarity in the scope of SIGDOC, the mission continues to be the same and has never been more relevant to computing machinery. The previous notion of “documentation” in both academia and industry has changed more to “communication” and “user technologies.” The name change accurately reflects the realities of current changes in the practices around technical communication – whereas writers used to create hard-copy documents (“DOC”) they now design, develop, and deliver user assistance (and other forms of information, including documentation), and commonly do this for many different languages.

The newer name for what DOC represents is a good reflection of the real world of current technical communication and of how both industry and academia have modified their scope and definition of former technical communication and computer science departments.

For example, at Indiana University, Bloomington, where SIGDOC 2009 took place, there is now a School of Informatics in which Computer Science is a department. Similarly, at the University of Washington, where the 2012 conference takes place in October, the school’s technical communication department was renamed to Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE). The focus of this school is on designing and building innovative technologies and systems – research, design, and engineering interactions between humans and technology. Technical writing is currently a certificate program and a fraction of the department’s faculty and students.

Design of communication in SIGDOC is far more relevant to informatics and human centered design and engineering than is just documentation or technical communication.

In industry, job titles were and still are changing. For example, technical writing involves so much more than writing. Technical writing is more commonly known as information development and documentation is now just one form of user assistance. Former documentation groups work in user technologies groups which includes designers and usability professionals.

So, while the spectrum of subject areas for “design of communication” is broad, and not always completely clear and fixed to all parties, it does in fact encompass the multidisciplinary aspect of what is most definitely not just documentation anymore, and as such makes SIGDOC an important and relevant group in ACM.