Lydia Hooper, principal of Fountain Visual Communications, will speak at STC RMC’s January 2017 program. For information and to register for the program, please visit our registration site. For information about Lydia’s community of practice for visual communicators, please visit and sign up here. An interest survey regarding the
community of practice is available here
through December 21st.
How long have you been in technical communication?
I’ve been in technical communication for about 6 years, including working as a program facilitator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
How did you get your start?
Somewhat fortuitously. I’ve always been an artist and a writer. My interest in science began when I studied massage and bodywork. Anatomy and physiology opened my eyes to the world of science and planted a seed. I went back to school, with the intention of learning how to communicate about science. Coming from the world of art and design, I focus more on process than content, though I’m passionate about combining the two. Looking back, I felt my way through the dark—macheted my way through the wilderness—and followed my instincts, what I was passionate about.
What do you feel are the top three skills a communicator should have?
These are more qualities than skills.
- Empathy— Understanding your audience from an emotional standpoint
- Systems thinking— Understanding the system in use, which is currently the Web
- Drive towards constant improvement and resilience— Design is really about iteration, doing things over and over, failing and continuing to create. We also don’t know what communication will look like in the future, and we need to be willing to continually evolve.
What is your favorite thing about being a technical communicator?
I love the variety, and I love learning. I’m always learning—about new content and new ways to present that content.
What tools do you use?
I use so many tools, as I work in so many different ways. Design tools I use include Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. More quantitative tools include Tableau for data visualization, Microsoft Excel, network mapping programs, and GIS programs.
How do you stay current with issues related to technical communication?
It’s a good thing that I like to learn, because there is so much to stay current on in terms of practices and methods. I read magazines, listen to podcasts, go to networking events, and seek out people who know something I need to learn or don’t even know I need to know yet. Believe it or not, I don’t make much use of social media. I do get inspiration from seeing what people are doing on Instagram. Occasionally, I might take a deep dive into the research literature.
What advice would you give to people who want to begin a career as a technical communicator?
Trust your instincts. When I meet young people, no matter what profession they’re trying to go into, I tell them to trust their instincts. That can be challenging, as they’re often juggling parents who live in the old world of security. That world is dissolving. Where the economy is going, you need to be clear on what you want. Follow where you feel called to go, what you’re most interested and skilled in.
For technical communication specifically, I would encourage them to consider what they’re most passionate about. Do they like writing, coding, or designing? Are they most interested in finance, software development, healthcare, or another industry?
Most of all, I’d encourage them. Technical communicators are important. They’re providing a service to fellow citizens, helping them to understand our complicated world. I would validate them and what they’re doing, because they don’t always get that from folks outside of the field.
If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be?
I’ve explored other paths, and I’m just where I want to be. If I had independent means, I would probably be a fine artist.
What’s your favorite industry book?
Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
What’s your favorite fun tool or gadget?
Paper and pen never gets old for me!
What’s your favorite non-technical book?
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, which covers spiritual principles about life. The language is beautiful. My favorite quote from the book: “Work is love made visible.”
What’s your favorite word?
“Slang,” which is short for “short language.” (I love how meta that is!)
What website do you visit every day?
Newsmap, which presents a visualization of the news
What’s your favorite travel location?
Is there anything else you’d like your fellow technical communicators to know about you?
I’m passionate about graphic recording, which is using design and illustration for interpersonal communication.
Lydia Hooper is a designer, writer, and consultant who has partnered with more than 30 organizations specializing in communciating about complex topics and issues. She has presented at events hosted by Tapestry Conference on data storytelling, TEDxMileHigh, Denver Art Museum, and History Colorado. In 2013, Lydia led a cross-disciplinary team to receive a bronze award in the national Civic Data Challenge. She graduated summa cum laude with a BA from the University of Colorado-Denver.