In the professional world, the term "Informational Product" has repeatedly appeared in recent years. We have recently adopted this term in our communication. Is this just a buzzword or hype that everyone is following, or why shouldn’t we say "Document" as usual? I would like to deal with these questions in this article.
The signs of the times are obvious: In all areas of our everyday life, the printed document plays an increasingly minor role. If we look something up, we do it via digital media, and if you look closely, it's almost always via the internet.
At the same time, the use of information has changed. We don’t tend to read so much anymore. We are investing less and less time to inform ourselves in-depth, but content ourselves with short, overview-like information. I regularly catch myself reading my daily newspaper, of course digitally on my iPad in the morning, just reading the headlines of the articles and not even opening them to read them completely.
If we need specific information, we’re now very much used to using modern search mechanisms. Google searches, Wikipedia and Siri, Alexa or "Hey Google" have long since replaced the Encyclopædia Britannica. As a general rule, we inform ourselves digitally. Information in printed format is increasingly becoming a nostalgic luxury item. You treat yourself to reading a real book because you enjoy the feeling. One reads the newspaper in the morning because it’s so relaxing and makes a good start to the day.
But the Tax Consultant, who is looking for very specific information, in an effort to advise his client well, no longer uses the bookshelf (which he has established for nostalgic reasons) in his office. He uses a specialised digital information portal that can provide him with the required information faster, more up-to-date, and more precise than the 200 kg of paper behind him.
The document is simply obsolete.
When reviewing the above, I believe that our target audience is becoming less interested in receiving user information in the form of Encyclopædia volumes. The good old document is simply obsolete. This may be sad, but it’s the truth. While legal requirements and industry standards will ensure that we continue to print our knowledge on tons of paper over the next 10 years, our users are increasingly saying "Goodbye" to it.
In order for this conceptual change to take shape in our minds, I find it wonderful that we can use a new word for it: INFORMATIONAL PRODUCT.
This word expresses a lot. On one hand, it’s no longer the "document", which includes a finite amount of information, frozen in time and usually printed on paper. A document is one type of informational product, but there are a lot of other types. And these are usually digital.
"Type" does not only mean the form of the presentation (i.e. whether as online help, website, eBook, content in an information portal, etc.), but also the amount of compiled information. An informational product can thus, as far as the amount of information and the depth of information is concerned, summarised as different sub-sets of a total amount of information. Thus, informational products can be optimised for user groups, specific situations, and use cases. Also, an informational product need not be static. Both the updating and expansion of the information contained in it is entirely possible and maybe even desirable for the users.
The concept of the informational product is thus much more universal than that of the document and fits much better into our current digital age.
What does this mean for future informational concepts and projects?
Let's not kid ourselves. Most Technical Editorial departments around the world still produce and print PDF documents. However, sooner or later we will no longer be able to provide users with up-to-date information.
So, when designing user information today, we should think much more about how the information is delivered to users and how it's presented to them. So here it’s about the selection of the appropriate informational product or informational products (yes, there will often be several), with which the informational needs of various user groups are optimally met.
That's why we now use the term "informational product" and invite you to work with us to develop strategies on how to provide your users with helpful information about products, software, and services of the future.