I’ve just finished a long stint working within a large, risk-averse organisation. Being product-side for a change has been an incredibly eye-opening experience. It’s the first time in more than a decade that I’ve been fully ‘on the inside’ and it’s afforded me some real insight and empathy into just how tough working within a large org can be. Especially when the industry in which it resides is traditionally stayed, steady and somewhat stale.
Many of the learnings I’ve taken from my recent foray will appear in subsequent articles, but my main takeaway (with an ounce of hindsight) is thus: language matters.
I had the luxury of working in quite an advanced digital team from the start; a blend of traditional UX designers and UI designers, product owners, and scrum. Yet we also had the luxury of having very strong content designers (or UX writers, as they’re also known) within the team. Their penchant for humanising what is typically dry and complex ‘product’ language into easy-to-understand words will perhaps be the main factor in the success of the product once it launches.
Choose your lexicon carefully
It was the involvement of the UX writers that reminded me just important a simplified language really is. The original product was verbose, complex, complicated and opaque. Yet they helped massage that information into something more digestible and easy to understand.
There’s a parallel here with what we as designers tend to do all too often. We too use language that’s verbose, complex, complicated and opaque. We may understand the business requirements, and have a good grasp of what we’re trying to accomplish. But all too often we’re guilty of losing our audience by using a language that is impenetrable by our business counterparts. The design lexicon is tough, and it’s a designer’s goal to make sure they’re speaking to the business in terms they understand.
Of course businesses, organisations and entire industries come with their fair share of language baggage. The number of acronyms and initialisms, shorthand and turns of phrase are often intimidating and opaque in their own right.
I don’t think that means what you think it means
In worst-case scenarios I’ve seen business language go a bit too far. Orgs with a loose grasp of the design vocabulary can misappropriate terms and apply them in the wrong contexts. Examples might include ‘Service designer’ or ‘Design lead’ when those actual roles are nothing we as designers would know them. The consequence of this mislabelling can be a misrepresentation of design maturity or misunderstandings from the wider business of specific skillsets and outputs.
Sharing a lingua franca
Design teams can’t be expected to fully adopt all business dialects, nor should business stakeholders need to fully grasp the complicated vocabularies of design teams. Rather, a common language — a lingua franca — should exist where all parties can understand the common goal.
As designers, design teams, product owners and stakeholders, we need to simplify our own lexicons, or meet somewhere in the middle. We need to lessen the hand-waving or acronyms and speak in terms that reflect the outcomes of what we’re all trying to achieve.
Finding that right balance between business and design language isn’t easy. But the payoff from creating a common language to reach a common goal can be huge.
Back to those UX writers I worked with… they knew exactly what they were doing all along.
This article was originally published on UX Collective
January 21st, 2019