Keep it simple
Your product might be complicated, but your UX doesn’t need to be
When I first started my career in content design, I was so nervous about making my writing sound intelligent and sophisticated. Now my goal is to do pretty much the exact opposite.
Designs should follow KISS (Keep it simple, stupid), or keep designs as simple as possible. This helps users to make decisions faster and use your product more effectively. For content designers, keeping it simple means using plain, jargon-free language.
Plain language is language that can be understood the first time it is read or heard. According to the Plain Writing Act of 2010, it can be defined as, “Writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field, and intended audience.”
So why should you use plain language?
5 reasons why you should keep your language simple
1. Reading levels
The average American reads at a 7–8 grade level. Even when you know your audiences are highly educated experts in their field, it’s only recommended to write at a 10th-12th grade reading level. So, in order to communicate effectively with the majority of your audience, it’s better to use language most people can easily understand.
For example, which of these phrases is easier for you to understand?
A) The identification phrase is erroneous.
B) Incorrect password
If I had to guess, I’d say you picked B. That doesn’t mean you can’t read or understand A, but it takes a little more mental energy. You’re not insulting the intelligence of your users by making your words easy to read. You’re simply taking up less of their time and mental energy so they can focus on other important things too.
2. English as a second language
English is not the only language. If you’re writing for a global audience, English may not be the user’s first language or they may be reading a translated version. Even if you’re writing for a primarily American audience, 21.6% of Americans speak a language other than English at home.
Use common words that people can easily recognize, especially when they’re being translated.
Clear and concise sentences help create more accessible content for people with cognitive and learning disabilities, language impairments, memory impairments, and autism.
According to WCAG3, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, writing in plain language means:
- Using common words
- Defining words
- Using simple tense
- Using literal language
- Avoiding double negatives
By following these guidelines, the content that you write improves the reading success and experience of your product and allows for a broader audience.
4. Search engine optimization (SEO)
Using simple language doesn’t just help make your product accessible and more readable, it also helps improve SEO rankings. SEO helps you rank higher on a search engine, like Google. When people are searching for your product or service, they typically aren’t using jargon or technical terms. They’re using language that is familiar to them. In fact, Google tries to show users answers shorter, clearer answers. So, to boost the chances of your content ending up on the first page of Google, use the same language they are using.
Let’s say I went to a loud concert and thought I burst my eardrum. To find the right doctor for me, I’d probably search “ear doctor near me” even though the technical term for a doctor that specializes in the head and throat is “otolaryngologist.” Most people probably don’t know or care about ear doctors’ technical titles in a stressful situation — or at least I didn’t. But I do know I want a doctor that can look at my ear, so that’s what I’ll search for.
5. Saving time
Your audience shouldn’t need to look up half the words you use or take the time to understand what exactly you’re trying to say. Your users have more important things to do. Save everyone the time and effort and keep your sentences simple, stupid.
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