Product Design

How Language Can Improve Your Design Process

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“Content is king” is something designers often say. Despite this, many continue to use lorem ipsum, resulting in work that’s too abstract and designs that don’t account for real-world scenarios. Relying on lorem ipsum keeps us at a disadvantage as designers because we cannot interact with the final product (i.e. we don’t get to work with product copy, or rework areas within our design to place focus on what should be the real star, the content). That said, we’re here to talk about more than just the content of your app or website, we’re here to talk about how you can better use language throughout your design process. Because it’s language that determines how we feel about different scenarios we must design for, and how close we feel to the people who will use our product. Thinking through how people will interact with your product can be difficult, and so can making sure to humanize those individuals you are designing it for. One of the easiest ways to change your mindset and take care of these issues is by making small adjustments to language choice throughout your design process. Here are two language adjustments I’ve found helpful:

1. Tap. Don’t Click.

The term “click” comes from the sound a mouse makes when interacting with an application or website. It’s a term that may bring back memories of dial-up modems and computers that focused on basic interactions in controlled environments. And while the word “click” might make us feel nostalgic for earlier days, it also describes a sterile interaction. One way to desterilize this interaction is by changing “click” to “tap.” The word “tap” indicates a person is interacting with your website or app in a real-world scenario (most likely with their hands), and with mobile app usage now greater than PCs people are a lot more likely to be tapping on your product than clicking on it these days.

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This particular language adjustment doesn’t just change how you view the people who use your product, it also forces you to think about how much space each person might need when interacting with different areas of your app or website. Thinking about finger interactions instead of small cursor interactions also helps you style buttons, links, copy, and even the size of elements on a page.

2. Use real names, not “user.”

“User” is a common term for describing the people who use, or will use your product. But it’s also a divisive term that makes it easy for us to skip over putting a face to an interaction. Instead of considering the challenges a single mother riding a bus to work might face when she tries to read or interact with our product, we might only think about how a generic “user” would interact with it. If you’re like me, the word “user” might make you think of someone similar to yourself (in my case, a college-educated male in his mid-twenties with higher-than-average knowledge of computers and mobile devices). This is generally not the demographic clients I work with want to target, so describing the people who will ultimately end up using their product as “users” becomes an exercise in designing for one small (and incorrect) group of people. Instead of “users,” refer to the individuals who interact with your product as “people.” I also recommend taking it a step further and giving those people names and personas. We’re fortunate to have an awesome UX strategy team at WillowTree that helps us create these personas. They allow us to connect with the people we’re designing for on a deeper level, pinpoint their unique needs, and understand how those needs will differ from person to person depending on their interactions with the app. Here is a brief example of what a persona might contain:

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Meet Jessica Jessica is a high-school student who’s really into social media. She’ll be graduating soon and comes from a middle-class family in a small town. Jessica checks her phone to and from school, in between her classes, and in the evening. Her most active hours on her phone are from 9 PM to 10:30 PM.

Even this abbreviated persona makes it much easier for me to connect with Jessica as a person and work to meet her needs. If I were designing a media app for Jessica, I might think about how to provide offline content to her more easily as she commutes to and from school, and about adding night-viewing mode for her late-night interactions with the app. Jessica is one of a myriad of personas you should be thinking of when designing an app or website. Taking the time to thoughtfully consider the people who use your product, and how to best meet their needs adds tremendous value to what you’re creating. It also results in far fewer complaints from the people who will use it.

Updating Your Approach

Whether it’s changing the language you use in your design process or refusing to use lorem ipsum, the closer you get to the content and the people who will interact with it later, the better. Your users–ahem–Jessica, will thank you.

What Changes Have You Made?

Have you made any language changes to your own process that are helpful? We’d love to hear from you if you have. Leave a comment for us here, or on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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