What technical writing taught me about design at Google – with Patrick Hofmann

Description: Starting my career in 1993, my roles evolved from technical writer to technical illustrator, instructional designer to information architect, usability researcher to interaction designer. Throughout this evolution, there were principles and practices, rules and theories that never changed.

A majority of them were foundations of technical writing – how we best optimise the communication of our products and the engagement of our users. Now as I work as a User Experience Designer at Google, what principles have stood the test of time to rule me from day to day? Their impacts are visible in our day-to-day lives.

 Outline of topics:

  • The evolution of Google Maps over the past decade
  • The commonalities of technical communication and usability
  • The motivations for stripping away information 
  • The power of pictures and icons
  • The nuances of truly knowing your users 
  • The fundamental questions we must ask
  • The ultimate goals of trust and delight
  • The future of words and pictures – where are we headed?


Trained as a technical writer but specialising in visual information design, Patrick Hofmann is often ironically called 'a man of few words'. For more than twenty years, this vibrant Canadian has helped companies worldwide improve the usability of their products – usually by transforming their textual information into pictograms, maps, symbols and icons. His award-winning work and undying passion for visual language send him across the globe, as he teaches information designers and technical writers how to use pictures to improve communication. Patrick is visiting us from Google in Sydney, Australia, where he works as a User Experience Designer on the Google Maps team.

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