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Language: Your Organization's Most Important and Least Valued Asset


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Have you ever felt like differences in language were holding your organization back? Perhaps you have tried to standardize language across parts of your organization only to find you have opened a huge can of worms?

The experiences we make for our users are made of language choices. We also depend on language to collaborate with the people we work with. Yet language is most often only tended to when you talk about things like content and copy.

Controlling your organization’s vocabulary is one of the murkiest messes we can take on, but it also might be one of the most impactful ways we can help our organizations.

In this talk Abby Covert, staff information architect at Etsy, will share with us the strategies and tactics they are using to pay closer attention to language choices they make across both internal and external user experiences.

Published in: Design

Language: Your Organization's Most Important and Least Valued Asset

  1. 1. Language Your Most Important and Least Valued Asset Abby Covert | @Abby_the_IA
  2. 2. Language
  3. 3. Language a complex system used for communication
  4. 4. Language a complex system used for communication
  5. 5. Content = Information
  6. 6. Content
  7. 7. Language Meaning Communicates is interpreted from Context Intention
  8. 8. For our content to create the “right” Information - Our Language choices must 1. Be ConteXt Aware 2. Project Our Intention
  9. 9. Have you ever been misunderstood?
  10. 10. Misinformation one of the most corrosive materials in existence
  11. 11. TRUST CONVERSION LOYALTY SATISFACTION The introduction of misinformation impacts all important metrics of success
  12. 12. Misinformation is the single biggest villain in most organizations
  13. 13. Misinformation 99.999999 % of instances of are caused by issues of language
  14. 14. 3 language mistakes that lead to misinformation
  15. 15. Vague Language 1
  16. 16. Where vague language is common • Marketing Copy • Error Messages • Confirmation Messages • Instructional Content • Icons
  17. 17. Vagueness can also occur in how we classify things
  18. 18. More Other
  19. 19. Discover learn explore Beware of Vague Verbs
  20. 20. Sometimes we are intentionally vague -- but unintentionally misunderstood
  21. 21. “...someone will answer your email soon”
  22. 22. Proprietary Language 2
  23. 23. When we create content that relies on our audience to have prior understanding of what we are communicating we are taking a risk.
  24. 24. "Confusement - by @lmanul For example: Product & feature names
  25. 25. It is a delicate balance Wanting a creative name that stands out in a crowded market Using names that make sense and can be integrated into a user’s life
  26. 26. Language for the wrong audience3
  27. 27. Ways of serving the wrong audience • Grade or Reading level • Tone or Style • Metaphors or Aphorisms
  28. 28. Have you ever received a document that feels completely unintelligible for your purposes?
  29. 29. Linguistic insecuritY
  30. 30. Shout Out to the team who worked on the New Zealand Government Toolkit!
  31. 31. language is inherently messy
  32. 32. 3 ways to wrangle language
  33. 33. Reconcile Mental Models 1
  34. 34. Our mental model impacts everything we believe about the world around us
  35. 35. How many vegetables are on this slide?
  36. 36. Scientifically there are 7
  37. 37. on a Typical grocery store app, there are 14
  38. 38. Reconciling = Collection
  39. 39. Coworkers are users too
  40. 40. Understand Context 2
  41. 41. Context is the circumstances that surround an interaction
  42. 42. Flapjack In the USA In the UK In New Zealand
  43. 43. Sometimes what feels like a friendly tone in one language can be taken as inappropriate in another language Etsy Circa 2015
  44. 44. Understanding Context Reconciling Mental Models Meeting people where they are
  45. 45. Control Your Vocabulary 3
  46. 46. Writing definitions forces us to talk about the messiness inherent in language
  47. 47. Start with Nouns, followed by Verbs
  48. 48. People Who is involved in the system? Features or Places What pieces does the system have? Paths What might people look to accomplish? Where to look for nouns
  49. 49. Tasks & Actions What can users do in the system? User Goals What do users come here to accomplish? Opposing Action How do actions get undone? Where to look for Verbs
  50. 50. Beware of adjectives
  51. 51. Get ready to get more messy before you clean it up
  52. 52. Clearly illustrate the impact of keeping it messy
  53. 53. Exercise Idea: Define every term within a definition
  54. 54. 60 h$p:// H/t Kurt Anderson Exercise Idea: Make a list of words you don’t say
  55. 55. 61 Exercise Idea: draw pictures to define a concept
  56. 56. Elements of a Successful Controlled Vocabulary • Definition that references nested definitions • Visual representation of how the concept being defined relates to nested definitions • Approved synonyms and context in which those are appropriate • Historical context • Strategic Considerations and Notes • Examples • Related Terms = redacted details to hide identity of organization
  57. 57. Wrap Up 1. Look for and eliminate vague and proprietary language 2. Reconcile your mental model with your co workers’ and users’ 3. Assure you understand your audience’s context 4. Take steps towards controlling your vocabulary 63
  58. 58. I wrote a book about information architecture for everybody
  59. 59. Thanks! 65