User Experience – 2009-11-24

Terminology: Avoiding buzzword bingo

Selling the concepts of user experience is often as much about education around activities and terminology as it is about showing real world effects, listening and comprehending client needs.

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.

-Ancient Chinese Proverb

While numbers in proper context will speak for themselves UX-terminology does not. It is ugly, has diverse definitions depending on approach and is many times unnecessarily technical or in worst cases a smug acronym (just look at the title of this blog). If you like me do not live in an english speaking country add to that an unnecessary language barrier. Most often your own language (swedish in my case) already has perfectly adequate terms to match its english/techno-based counterparts. Markus Weber recently posted a few thoughts on the subject. Continue reading if you are curious to my approach.

Terminology does not have to be a problem.

As long as you share a common language or common terminology with your team and your clients it will help avoid misunderstandings, misconceptions and a great deal of frustration. Establishing this common shared terminology does take some effort but I believe it is time worth spending.

Bringing down the barriers

How do you go about spreading your knowledge and explaining the terms you use? You could always blog of course (duh). If your goal is unified shared knowledge with a specific group of people there might be better ways of logging and distributing the information. Setting up and building a wiki is actually not that difficult or time consuming. You don´t have to complete the entire wiki at once. If you dont want to make a fuss about it until it has matured you can set it up on your workstation or laptop during the initial development. If you are not the techgeek type you might want to go with a packaged installer like xampp for apache and mySQL and add mediawiki once it´s up and running on your machine.

Add to your wiki as questions pop up in your projects and you will find that you keep it relevant, reusable and a nice point of reference when needed. Going through the trouble of translating and explaining the terms in your native language and thereby avoid holding meetings that sound like buzzword bingo sessions.

To sum this up:

Keep it simple
Translating the most common terms or the ugliest ones does not have to take forever.

Keep it native
Being able to speak about what you do in your own language will boost your confidence. This will also build trust with your co-workers and fend of skeptics who tend to frown upon buzzwords and technical jargon.

Keep it updated
When are you finished? Never. Keep your wiki updated. You will have great material for proposals, blogging and internal and client education. If you feel you have the time why not share it with your colleagues in the web community. Who knows, someone might like it or some smart ass just might feel compelled to correct your errors.

Have a look at this post over at A List Apart and see how they describe common terms and activities. It does not have to nor should it be more complicated than that.

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