usability & language: inconsistent terms

1 Jun 2006 - 7:54am
10 years ago
1 reply
819 reads
Simon Asselbergs

Hi All,

I am an all-round interaction designer and I am to busy to deal the language & usability part while improving big large existing products on small usability features (quickwins).

But I find it also rather important, but also so time consuming and I am not specialized in that kind of stuff. I am the only interaction designer and there is a documentalist making tutorials. He bumps very often against hazy language constructions. He is quite busy also.

What would you do? has anyone been in the same situation.




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1 Jun 2006 - 9:01am
Lada Gorlenko

SA> I am an all-round interaction designer and I am to busy to deal
SA> the language & usability part while improving big large existing
SA> products on small usability features (quickwins).

SA> What would you do?

1. Change the attitude.
"All-round interaction designers" care about usability issues.

2. Check if there are any existing glossaries and standards
(corporate, government, etc.) of which you may not be aware.

Find a person in your org who may know these or even be in charge of
implementing them. In larger places, you'll have designated people.
In smaller, talk to Marketing folks, they might point you in the right
direction. Stick to the existing standards.

If this doesn't work...

3. Invite your technical writer for a coffee, and between you two:

3.1 Identify how big the terminology problem is. Is it
a) simply annoying? or
b) affecting the users' success rate?

If A, put low on your to-do list and fix whenever you can.
If B, put high on your to-do list and try to gather some simple data
to back your findings. Escalate to whoever is responsible for the
product success / user satisfaction.

3.2 Identify what the main linguistic issues are.
Can you spot any patterns in the language inconsistencies? For example,
a) are they language- or culture- specific: they say "hood" in the US,
we say "bonnet" in the UK; designers say "page layout", content
managers say "presentation template"?
b) are they more conceptual inconsistencies (mix of understandings)
than language inconsistencies (mix of synonyms)?

Think where the problem may come from. Take it from there.

3.3 Start a glossary
Create a file where you log synonyms and concepts as you discover
them. Decide on which terms you going to stick to and stick to them.

In reality, #2 and #3 can take as little as half and hour of web
search, a few emails to colleagues and a few coffee breaks to put your
own best practices in place. The #1 takes much longer and is more


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