It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, people all have their specific work language. Doctors and nurses have intense medical jargon, lawyers have legal terms made from old Latin words. The tech industry is no different. An outsider watching an episode of Silicon Valley could be lost without the help of Google or dictionary.com. Without context, terms like agile or sprint could be used to describe the flexibility of a gymnast or an athlete’s preferred event. Context is key.
As a graphic designer, I also have my own work language. I would, occasionally, be caught going on at length about leading or kerning or resolution, or the benefits of a serif over a sans, or how an image needed contrast adjustment or colour correction. I’d be greeted with a glazed look if the other person didn’t know exactly what I was talking about. On the other hand, if I were talking to another designer, the conversation would just flow. We’d know exactly what the other was saying.
Having spent the last ten years in publishing, I am accustomed to being around language people. Writers and editors know all of the words. I’m not there yet. But that’s why the blog, you work on the things you want to get better at. Something about practice making perfect.
I may default to being labeled a visual designer, but I am also a communicator. I enjoy nothing more than sitting at happy hour and having the most random of conversations. As it’s always come naturally to me, I took for granted how useful a skill it is being able to go up to a stranger and start talking.
Deep within my character is this innate need to learn new things and talk to different people. This is one of the many reasons User Experience appeals to me. Being able to actually communicate with people to build a better product. To find out how I can help make something that works better for them instead of just making something pretty and assuming it will work as intended.
So with the decision to move from Graphic Design into UX design, I needed a little more knowledge. How do I do this? So back to language again, after high school I went to university and studied English. I have a degree that has basically sat useless for a long time.
I wanted to be a writer; I did not become a writer.
While I was attending York University “studying” English, I taught myself to be a designer. I got involved with the production of the student newspaper and found slightly more aptitude with graphic design than with writing. A few years later, I came back around to working in publishing. So I did eventually use my love of storytelling just in a different way, by helping others get their stories out. I’m getting a little closer to writing again now that I’ve started blogging. But I’m not finishing my novel anytime soon.
The point is, I’m the type of person who learns by teaching myself rather than sitting in class. Yes, that was the point of all that. Don’t get me wrong, I found school fulfilling for other reasons, but it’s not something I desire to go back and do again. It’s never been how I learn. I’ve always simply found a question and than looked for the answer.
So having made the decision to focus on UX design, I had to figure out a way to learn how to do user experience without having to sit in a classroom. Luckily enough, there are websites with videos that will teach you anything and everything you want to learn. I did about 17 courses over the span of two weeks. I’m a little scared to discover how many hours of video I went through.
The first few hours or so my eyes were a little glazed, like I was the non-designer being talked to about design. So I started making a list of terms. Don’t get me wrong, I know all of these words, but I needed help putting the UX/UI design language into a context that I could understand. I didn’t even need to write the definition, I just needed to put them on paper to connect them in my brain. These are some of the words in my notebook:
User-Centric Design, Information Architecture, Stakeholder, Client, User, Developer, Fidelity, Prototype, Wireframe, Mock-up, Flow Chart, Box Study, Ideation, Iteration, Goals, Pain Points, Personas, Scenarios, Experience Map, Story Mapping, Metrics Gathering, Pixel Perfect, Use-ability Tests. Empathy.
Like a eureka moment, it hit me. More than just finding and solving a problem, the importance of UX design is translating technology to something digestible by the everyday user. Essentially, design is the bridge between user and developer.
It’s about storytelling. Using images and language to guide people, to make sure that the whole experience works. That it solves a need. That it is enjoyable and doesn’t cause frustration. Creating a better product or service to engage users, no matter what the ultimate goal is, means connecting with the human on the other end.
For example, say I’m working on a website or an application. My first step should be thinking about who is going to use this product and create personas for these hypothetical users. Are they old or young, male or female, do they come from a specific cultural or educational background, are they casual or professional, do they have any common habits. By giving these archetypes a back story, you humanize them and can better empathize with them.
Once you have an idea of who the user will be, think about what would benefit them most. Is there a certain reading level that should be adhered to. Think about the length and complexity of words and sentences you’re writing. I once had a conversation with a friend about writing for an audience. She came from a print media background, and mentioned the difference in reading level between national and community newspapers. So, knowing who you’re writing for is important.
My last thought is write with an intentional tone. For example, I’m writing my blogs as though I’m having a conversation with an imaginary reader. I want them to know who I am. I read my sentences out loud to better gauge how they flow, to ensure they sound human. I used humour and anecdotes to move my story along. Everything I write is done with the expressed intention of creating a real connection with the reader.
The moral of the story, choose words carefully.
Although I have an English degree and have spent a decade working in publishing, I’m not an editor and make the occasional spelling or grammar error. Or, to be honest, frequent. I will edit after the fact, so please message.
I would love to hear from you, so please comment or connect with me.