Episode 30: Designer-isms: speak plain language

Episode 30: Designer-isms: speak plain language

In episode 30, Cathi, Jackie & Monique discuss designer-isms. As designers, we tend to use too much jargon. This episode is based on the article we wrote for UXATT (link below), where we wrote about 15 design terms. We talk about why you should avoid jargon. And give suggestions on how you could speak about the same thing in plain language. And yes, we need to get better at it too.

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Full Transcript of this Podcast Episode


Jackie Hello everyone, this is Jackie D'Elia with rethink.fm and I'm here with Monique Dubbelman and Cathi Bosco and today we are going to be talking about designerisms.

Monique Yes, designerisms. Okay. I, I was confronted with this the other day when I went to the museum, and I got interviewed what I thought of the stuff I just saw. And so this had nothing to do with my job, obviously, and saying, like, Oh, this is this, I thought of the exhibition. And then she said, Okay, so are you okay with me taking your picture and writing down your name? So we can put you aside your quote in the newspaper that we're going to publish this in next week? That's correct. Okay. Yeah. And then she said, she said, so what do you do? And I was just like, okay, that's an odd question. What What do I do what answer shall I give? So I called myself a web designer, I thought that will relate to most people that they understand. And I can be all nitpicky. It's not really web design. It's like, and this reminded me of a post that sort of got us started on designer-ism that we read on. I think it was on the UX collective. Yeah. Why designism are a problem. And I think this got us started this conversation. And let me quote a bit because it says: "Why designisms are a problem". And we sort of based on this episode on that article, partly, and it starts with this conversation where a person asks like, hey, so what do you do for a living? So I really felt like the guy now answering like, Oh, I'm a UX designer. And then for a second, what's UX? I mean, say, UX stands for user experience. And then radio silence. So obviously, for getting your name in the newspaper, where it says this person does this and that it's not really worth going into that conversation. But you must recognize having that conversation at the odd like, birthday celebration, sort of frown and got it. Do you want another bit of toast? Thank you.

Cathi Yes, yes. Yes, that happened to me for jury duty. The judge when is when I was being interviewed by the judge for jury duty. He's like, and what do you do for a living? And same thing, of course, I threw out a designerism, cuz I'm really bad at not using like a UX designer. everybody's like, well, what's that? What are you doing? Like? We make apps. They seem to accept that.

Monique Yeah, obviously, it really depends on who you talk to. Because if you're in a design world, or at a design conference, or if you're with your peers, you can be more specific, right, but that's where the things go wrong. And that's maybe what we want to cover in this episode as well. Where you tend to use and I think that maybe every profession has that problem. That way, you tend to overuse jargon from the stuff you work with. And there's another great possible link to in our show notes on LinkedIn. That mentions the How many are there? Well, 50 most used words and terms in UX design or user experience design. Which isn't really a problem if you talk amongst each other. But if you speak with your clients, or with people using digital products, they might not always understand what you mean. And so to name a few that are on the list is design thinking process, design sprints? Yeah, that design sprints what what does it actually mean? Do we have a common idea of what what a design sprint might mean? What would we say?

Jackie Well, I think the one of the issues with that, for us is is you know, talking to clients about doing a design sprint, do they have any idea what you're talking about there, and journey mapping and some other terms that we regularly use in our work that they may not understand? So we we did write an article, and it's going to be up on UXATT and we'll link to it in the show notes that just some common examples of kind of do's and don'ts for how to talk about these terms with people that are not designers, are not in the industry, but actually people that you would be working with that need your help, or want to hire you so that they understand, because I think we've all been in that position where people say things, you're in a meeting and you're hearing it and you really don't and i'm i'm very bad. And you all know this about me, right? So I get stuck on something if I don't know it, and then I stop hearing everything else after that until I'm searching. I'm looking up on Google and checking to figure out what did they just say what does it mean? And then I've lost my whole train of thought with where we were going with the conversation. So yeah,

Monique It's I think it's part of our job to to verify if people understand what we say, right. And the whole thing about user research from my perspective and understanding what people think it's not making assumptions. And if you assume people understand what you're saying, then there's the first thing going wrong. And I know what Cathi said that she's like, the master of designerims

Cathi so bad, it's so bad.

Monique I mean, if no one ever tells you, and I think it's, I mean, we're guilty of it ourselves. But we try to improve, we try to be open and hopefully people listening to us and don't understand things. We said, please ask because you're not always aware of the things you say that they're not understand

Cathi I mean, the last thing, yeah, the last thing we want to do is make people feel like stupid. You know, when I don't know something, I always feel like kind of dumb. And I don't want to put that on anyone. And I had two points to add to this. Like, I think you're right, Jackie, I think clients really appreciate when we just speak in plain language about the work we do. I think that engineers do as well. Now we happen to work with some of the most incredible engineers, so you know, software engineers that have some real good UX chops. But at the same time, they don't necessarily understand our work by the name of the tactic we're executing for the team. Right, like, and I think my second point about that is, I think it's important for the credibility of our discipline, and our industry, that we use plain language, because otherwise, people just kind of think, oh, they're doing that UX thing, and we don't have the kind of credibility we deserve for the impact we make for both the product and the businesses we work on. So I think it's important for credibility.

Monique Yeah, well, also, I think, give people the space to ask the question, right. So if you if you can't really avoid jargon, ask them if they understand what it means. And because you're happy to explain, because you, you know that sometimes you speak jargon, and you don't want them to feel stupid, but it's also some blindness. And I remember me asking at this accessibility meeting, once, like accessibility in web design, it wasn't always common knowledge for me what that meant. But making products accessible means that you, everybody can use it, regardless of maybe some disabilities they have or that could be temporary or permanent, you know, you could have a headache from drinking too much. And then you can't read a lot of text. So you want the want the text to be too difficult. But you can also have bad eyesight, like permanent problems, stuff like that. So that's the broader term of accessibility. And I keep learning to keep learning a lot about that I'm really open to learning more. And a few months ago, I was at a meeting with all people knowing much more from this topic than I do. And somebody was talking about ATAG and I only know a tag as a brand for stoves, or, you know, cooking in the Netherlands, it's it's a cooking brand. So I was just asking ATAG, what does this mean? Like I was brave enough to ask the question, right? Um, all these people knew more than I did. And then one person said to me, oh, ATAG, you know, ATAG. I was like, Oh, god, I'm the only one. No, no, that's awful. And afterwards, someone I told this to someone else, and I felt really awkward because I seem to be the only one that understanding. And he is going Oh, no, that should never be the thing. So he was kindly explaining to me that it meant that it was the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guideline. So not for people using the product but people working with content editors to put stuff on the end products, and that the editor should be usable for all that's the whole issue with Gutenberg, your WordPress editor that wasn't accessible with a keyboard but a lot of things only through mouse stuff like that. So that's the ATAG directive that goes in it, but I it was a term I'd never heard of, you know, I How was I supposed to know what that means? If no one takes the time to explain it to you in plain language.

Cathi acronyms are rich with misunderstandings and yeah

Monique And I think even we had it with us as a team, you know, it could be a language barrier between European English American English, you know, you have to put things into context and convey the meaning. I think we had something like with it's in our list in the articles well, MVP. I mean, until a few years ago, we they were called multi no it was MPV. See, here we go already. A Multi Purpose Vehicle we had like this those big cars, we coat those mpv's. So for a long time in my brain, this is what people meant. And then we had it a few weeks ago, right? We said like, oh, minimum viable products. And you Cati, I think you had the idea that it meant something different. Right? You had a difference?

Jackie Cathi thought it was Most Valuable Product.

Cathi Right, right. That's right. That's my sports background, MVP. Most Valuable Player.

Monique You know, even even with people within the same profession, it's really important. So are we talking about the same thing here and not assuming you all know, like, just take some time to explain.

Cathi Speaking of MVP, I was listening to a podcast with another UX designer. And he was saying it should be MUP - most usable product, not most viable product. I thought that was that ring true to my to my UX ears. And I'm sure yeah,

Monique What we wrote down in the article. I think that's a good example, like MVP as a designerism, like term, try to avoid, or don't say, "we first deliver an MVP -Or if even if you say it, like the full word minimum viable product- that will enhance in future sprints". But do say, "we'll deliver a fully functional product that meets your minimum requirements. From there, we can improve and add functionality based on feedback from real people". And I actually had this when I sat with a client who got a proposal from a development agency. And the final sprint, here we go again, was the delivery of an MVP, but the client who was not technical thought it was like, it wouldn't have any design, it would look terrible, you know, it would be a half finished product, like visually or so it was really hard for them to understand what the actual deliverable was, after all those terms.

Jackie I think to understanding the value of the service you're providing, right? So it's riddled with jargon that most people don't understand or are not really comfortable with, it makes it more difficult for them to actually understand the value of what we do. And we already know in UX, there's challenges to recognizing the value of it, because many people are focused on visual design only. And then focused on how are we going to build it. So the developer side, right, so those are the two most important areas, aside from marketing, which puts it all together. But the UX component really needs to come before that. And a lot of times people don't understand the value of it. So I think that by speaking in their language, in more plain English, you can express what it is you're actually going to be delivering, and then they can see the value in it. Because when you start to say things that make a lot more sense to them, they're going to recognize it go Oh, okay, that makes sense. We do want to know that.

Monique Yeah. Well, actually, I actually understand what you're saying.

Cathi Yeah, yeah. When we collaborate with other with clients that have a design team, or they may have UX designers on staff, and I'm often in that position at XWP, their design team, the UX toolkit, is that the designerism, of UX toolkit?

Monique Yes!

Jackie Yeah, the tools we use to understand how people see your product.

Cathi They have a different set of tools and resources that they work through, then maybe we do. Some of them could be the same exercises, but have different names. And there's just such a broad range of workshops or tactics, or charts or research that you can do that it's even complicated when you're collaborating with other design teams.

Monique Because there's a lot of a lot of in house terminology as well, right that people have adopted over the years. I remember one of my boyfriend's working for the Dutch Postal Service, like back in the 90s. And when people got to work for the Postal Service back then they got a big guide with all the acronyms used in the company, for them to understand all the different machinery and flows in the Postal Service going on. Yeah, well, yeah. See what happened today. There's no mail ad delivery anymore. So yeah.

Jackie I think one of the biggest ones we've come across lately, too, with using jargon is heuristic evaluation, right? So we've said, you know, oh, we're gonna do a heuristic evaluation first. And, you know, instead of and then we've had clients actually ask, Well, what is a heuristic evaluation because they really didn't have any idea. And so you know, in our article We have a do and don't for that one. And so the the do is, you know, let's test your website or application against 10 well proven principles on how usable it is for humans or for people, right? So that puts it in much more of a context number one, that there's actually some guidelines or principles that we want to measure against, and then see how usable it is. Right? So the usable part comes in, and I think then you can understand the value of that. So if I had a website that I want it to be evaluated, or if I had an app or a product, especially a digital product, because that's what these these are typically based on user interface, right. Which is another designerism. So but the point is, ...

Team UXATT [Laughter]

Jackie It's hard, it's more than, you know, just they understand what it is that you're going to be delivering.

Monique So why do you think jargon exists? How does it come to be what it is.

Jackie I think it's just to be more efficient with communication, right? People, like minded people tend to use it as a way to quickly say things that have a much longer explanation, right.

Monique But when people don't understand it, you still need an explanation.

Jackie The other option is it kind of makes you feel more important in your field, if you know a bunch of jargon, right? So people go, you must be very smart, you, you know all those things. And

Monique That's why I use it.

Team UXATT [Laughter]

Cathi Me too, me too! And it can cause unintentional gatekeeping. So if you're using it, and people don't, and people feel intimidated to ask, you're stopping people from growing and learning and developing, and you're actually crippling your ability to do the high impact work you want to do. So I think it can cause unintentional gatekeeping as well.

Jackie And I think we had recently, we did a proposal, and we actually went through it after reading writing this article and having internal discussions and made some changes. So I think if you, if you need to use some jargon in there, just go ahead and put in parentheses exactly what that means in plain language right there. So that if somebody is reading a proposal, or somebody is reading, you know, a document, they don't have to stop, like I struggle with because when I hit a word or something I don't understand, I go off on a tangent then and try to find out. Okay, what does that mean? And then I've lost my place, and I get distracted. And you know, I don't finish it, right. So I think providing all that information right there makes it easier for somebody to digest it, and then understand it and see the value in it. Right. That's another opportunity there to show value.

Cathi I hear you telling me not to be lazy about that and to write it.

Jackie I did not say that!

Cathi No, but I needed to hear it!

Jackie You asked me to proofread it!

Cathi Yeah, I need that I need to do better at this. This has been such a really eye opening exercise for me.

Monique But that's the great thing about working in a team. And if you're working solo, and have to write proposals for clients that are not technical or on a different expertise, have a peer read your stuff, you know, get someone who reads through your stuff. And if they have questions. Yeah, make make sure if they have these questions, you're the one you're addressing in your proposal or in your brief or whatever piece you're writing may have the same questions as well. And I think it's always important if you work together that you keep asking questions and not, try to feel stupid to our colleagues or make them feel stupid. Sorry, Cathi, that's not what we're intending. If you think we thought you were lazy, that's not the thing. But it's, I think you have to stay focused and keep correcting each other. Because then in the end, you get a better result for everyone for the people you're you're writing to or speaking to, but also to to get on the same page. Right? We had, right? We were working on some some new Web Designs this week. And I'd set it up a certain way. And you were saying things, and you had different ideas on that. And but for me, it was really hard like, Okay, what what does she want? So we keep sort of going right until we really, we even make things visual. We did some sketching Is this what you mean? Is this what you mean, like even us doing the same work? Like it's really important too, until you both say, yes, this is what we mean. This is now we're on the same page. It's really worth spending the time I think, because otherwise, you know, one of us get this feeling and stays in a sort of like Twilight Zone like oh, oh god, they're doing this and I was actually thinking this and at some point it's too late to correct all that or it takes more time and energy and or maybe you get so much friction in a team or frustration.

Cathi You get out of the flow or you get imposter syndrome. I think having the ability to show if you're having difficult time communicating a way of working through something. For me, maybe because I'm my learning disability or whatever visual learner, when people show me like when we started mapping things out visually to show each other what we mean. Or if you can show an example of a heuristic evaluation that you did for someone else that can, that can bridge gaps hugely, as well.

Monique So visualize, you don't have to be a good drawer to visualize, you know, it can just be boxes and arrows. That's the way I draw. It's fine. Here's the box. Here's another box arrow that goes there. Oh, yeah. Everybody can draw that we can all draw. I mean, we all were drawing when we were in kindergarten. Or nursery school. So doesn't have to be beautiful has to be understandable.

Cathi That's right. That's right. Whatever you need to communicate clearly with each other is critical.

Jackie Did you have any favorites in the article that or because Wait, so it's so everybody knows, if you read this article, there's 15 of them in there. So we each took five, and went through and worked, you know, some simple do's and don'ts from there. And then we had to put it all together and edit it, which was eye opening again, because some of the things were different than what we had expected. And so we had to go through and kind of massage it and get it all to be a little more cohesive. But did anybody have some favorites that they want to cover?

Monique Oh, we already discussed a few. Right? I think one of my favorites may be wireframes. Especially, it's something that is hard to explain. I've been teaching in the University of Applied Science as well. And my students had to make wireframes. And I saw the sort of like, blank looks when I told them, they had to create wireframes. Like, okay. But when you say it's a global sketch of what goes where, you know, and you draw a bit of an example, then it sort of makes sense. So what we have in the article and the wireframes, if you if you want to feel important, and not if people understand you, you can say this: "wireframing is an important step in any screen design process. It primarily allows you to define the information hierarchy of your design, making it easier for you to blend the layout, according to how you want your user to process the information". And everybody will nod once you've said that, and.... where's the coffee? Or do we have how many hours do we have to be in this class? Or do we have to listen to this person? Instead, you could say, and maybe it's still like, half designerism. But I think it's a lot more understandable. I'm curious to hear what other people think of her after listening to this episode. But what you could say instead, is: "we create a low fidelity scheduled every screen in your website or app. And that will help you define what goes where it's basic layout out that makes it easier to focus on the functionality and information instead of how it looks". And it's not much more wording it's like actually the same amount of words, maybe a bit less, but it says a lot more on what you can expect that thing so I think that's my favorite. Wireframes Yes.

Jackie And yours Cathi?

Cathi Um, I love them all. I misunderstood the assignment of this have been rewritten by Jackie thank goodness, but I'll just say it was really fun exercise.

Monique It wasn't a waste though. The stuff you wrote down we're gonna use in another article. Yeah.

Cathi No, but. So but that's the story of my life. I slipped through the cracks all through school. So usability testing is one of my favorites cuz you know, people um, this is just one of my favorites. So I'll say that don't usability testing. "We conduct usability testing on subjects to determine how effective a design is". Don't say that.

Monique Whenever you say that, again, Cathi, you put money in your swear jar, right. Designerism jar.

Cathi Designerism jars. Oh, if anybody wants one, I'll paint one for you and mail it to you. Usability testing do say this: "We observe how people use a product and see where it can be improved".

Jackie That's so much easier for somebody to understand. Right. So if you're talking to a client about it, they can say oh, wow, that is important. Then, right? So mine is dark patterns

Monique Ooooh!

Jackie As everybody knows, I'm the Rizzo of the group. So for me, so dark patterns, I see it everywhere now, especially now that I became aware of it, of course, when somebody mentioned it the first time, I didn't know, is it like dark colored text on your on your website? Or your app? Or is it? Is it a dark screen a dark mode? You know, I wasn't sure. And then patterns Is it like, you know, little designs, visual designs that are dark, I had no idea. So anyway, you started. So don't say, you know, "we work to eliminate dark patterns in the user interface", because that just really doesn't cover anything. So a good example might be, you know, "we examine the choices presented to people to make sure that all the choices create a positive experience". So I can elaborate on that aspect. So many of you have seen, like the little bait and switch pop ups that come up on websites, when you're shopping that says, you know, give us your email, and you can get 20% off your first order. And then they have another button there that says, No, thanks. I prefer to pay full price, which, if you think about it, it's not really a positive experience for somebody to have to click that because you're thinking okay, well, they're basically saying, well, you're just stupid for for wanting to pay full price. But go ahead and click here. And then you can continue on to the website. So eliminating dark patterns is a way of making sure that all the choices you're presented with are positive, right? So they're, they're not negative experiences, or you're not using some negative reinforcement to get the action that you want.

Monique Yeah, I think there should there should be, you know, a fine on that. Because I have to log into the website for my phone company every month to download the invoice for my bookkeeping. And I get this cookie pop up every time. And I always decline, because I mean, you know, if I don't have to, why should I? And it always says, like, No, I don't want an optimized experience. It makes me angry every time and I've, I've even seen it with a health insurance, where it didn't literally say like, "No, thank you. I rather die soon". But it was sort of in that... that was really, really dark. So this reminds me of a talk I did at an information architecture conference in Italy A few years ago, and there were all user experience designers in the room. But you know, when you look at the web, I don't think we do our work really well. And one of these things are like pop ups. And so all the things you get annoyed by as a person using the internet or an app, right? We all know, we shouldn't use dark patterns, we shouldn't do an overkill on pop ups. I mean, there, we could write an article on that, like the top six most annoying things on the web. And like, half of the room is going like tsss we all know this. And the other hours there. But yeah, but why do we see this this often? If we all know, this is not what we should do. In the meantime, we're still doing it. And that's the same with our credits. I think. Aside from that, we're we're sort of derailed here a bit, but I still want to say it, aside from using the jargon that we have to be aware of what how we speak. You know, it's, it's an ethical choice to be it's good to be mindful about how you talk about your work and explain it, because it is your work basically, as a designer to make things clear. So if you feel forced to there's someone writing those texts, there's a developer putting the code online. You know, there's someone creating the visuals for that pattern saying, No, I'd rather die young. You know.

And you will have a voice. I mean, you have a say, and as you can say, I'm not gonna code that I'm not gonna write that down. That's that's not ethical. And, okay, that was Yeah. My fault.

Cathi Yeah, I think it's good. People need to be encouraged to speak up when they feel something is unethical. And you should work at it. Hopefully you have the opportunity to work in a culture where people feel safe doing that. I know, it's not always easy, but it's the right thing to do. And we can't encourage people to do that enough ethical choices we make. As the design leaders and the engineers on projects. We're not what I mean. The designer who who designed the Volkswagen bug, exhaust situation where they were fraudulently reporting better results for the environment of that Volkswagen bug. That designer went to jail, right? for breaking the law.

Monique I'm not sure about the details, but should that be the reason for not doing it if that's the risk, right and right, I think that's, I mean, create for for companies create a culture where people, I think, are free to express how they feel about things to ask questions, you know, if they're unsure, and I think not creating How did you call that when jargon sort of puts a barrier, oh gatekeeping and it's, it's all culturally driven in a way so some companies may drive that culture of having like difficult names for functions, you know, what on earth is, is, uh, I don't know. I can't think of something now. But I mean, some people have such crazy job role names and

Cathi Oh job titles. That's a whole nother designerism

Jackie That's another episode!

Monique But anyway, I think using designerisms in your company language on your website, speaking to clients. You don't have to sound all academical to make an impression. Right? That's right.

Jackie Yeah, actually will now have to go back and review our website to see where we can improve on the designerisms we've used there.

Monique Yeah, and I'd love to hear it. If people like well, we'll link to the article. There's 15 there. But obviously, there's a lot more jargon.

And if people need some help, maybe rewriting one we can we can, you know, give it a go and see if we can use that as a challenge for people to come up with some jargon and see if we can rewrite that in plain language. So everybody understands what you're up to.

Jackie Yeah. All right. Well, we are out of time for this episode. I want to thank you both for joining me and everybody else and we will see you in the next episode.

Monique Adios

Cathi Bye bye.

Jackie Bye

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