Design has a language problem

Using technical terms or big words can make you sound smart. It creates a knowledge gap between you and the listener, which in the short-term can be helpful. “Hey, this person knows what she is talking about”.

But in the long-run, it often breaks down communication. People are embarrassed to ask about words they don’t understand. As a result, projects roll along with everyone thinking different things.
We once had a client who waited weeks into the project to ask what the word copywriting meant. Understandably, he thought it referred to placeholder text because we were copying the words from somewhere else. Which actually makes sense when you think about it. That wasn’t his fault– it was ours.
As designers, our primary job is to understand people’s behaviour and build things they need. Clarity and common understanding are key parts of this equation. A fast path to getting there is to write a list of potentially confusing terms at the onset of a project and share it with the entire team. What does high-fidelity mean? When we say we are building something responsively, how does that look? What’s a prototype? Does iterate just mean making changes?

Using terms that are easier to understand helps build better products, and that often starts with language. Don’t miss the opportunity to share and teach. It will likely help down the road.

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