Stop your team using technical terms and jargon

Most weeks I am ridiculed by someone for insisting on plain language – avoiding acronyms and technical language / jargon in particular. People tell me that I’m slowing the team down by making them use proper words, and that their end users or stakeholders expect them to use technical language.

These things are both true. You should still use plain language.

Technical language is exclusive.

If you know all the fancy terminology then you’re allowed to fully participate, if not, you’re at least partially excluded. This is unfriendly and can also severely limit the number and type of people who can fully contribute to the work your team is doing.

Recently someone insisted that they needed an incredibly experienced and excellent user researcher who was an expert in all the technologies associated with commercial banking. Do you know how many of those people their are in the entire world… not many.

Do you really want to make hiring that hard for yourself?

If you use plain English in your team, then more smart people can be involved and help you to think about ways that you can improve. That is a good thing.

Technical language bundles assumptions.

If you are in the business of transforming service design, then you are in the business of questioning assumptions. You are constantly asking – what is this really? how does it really work? is it actually the right thing? does it really need to be that way?

One of the best ways we can do this is to keep questioning things until they are broken down into their most basic parts.

We stop calling things by their name (‘we’re working on the registration form‘) and we start talking about what things do (‘we’re working on a way people can to access health benefits more easily‘).

We can recognise opportunities to design things better and differently by describing and understanding the real intent of each component.

Technical terms and jargon almost always bundle up assumptions about the necessity of a thing that – if unchallenged – allow teams to completely miss the real opportunities for transformation.

Plain language is slower.

Yes, switching to using plain language is slower for those who are proficient in the technical terms. It’s not slower for the rest of us. Anyway, there is no advantage in doing the wrong thing faster. (Or, at least, there shouldn’t be).

Plain language is unexpected.

Yes, your colleagues in banking, government, etc. will be surprised and maybe even scornful when you stop doing the linguistic secret handshake and start using plain language. This is no reason to revert to jargon. This is your chance to change culture, one word at a time. Really, it’s the easiest bit of transformation you can do in your organisation ever single day.

Starting now.

Farewell London Drinks

If you fancy one last drink and/or chat before I head back to Australia, I’d be very happy to see you next Wednesday evening, 9 September.

I’m optimistically suggesting the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden at South Bank sometime between 6pm-8.30pm.

(The weather will turn beautiful once the kids go back to school, right?)

If you fancy coming, add yourself to this Facebook event so I can let you know where we’re going if the weather is not cooperative.

Coming home

I’ve got some news.

I’ve been in London for almost ten years now, but I’m an Australian, and I’m excited to be heading home to Sydney in September to continue the mission to bring great service design and user experience to government by joining the Digital Transformation Office.

I’ll be helping the DTO build a great service design practice, working with user researchers, designers, content designers, accessibility experts and data analysts who will help to make Australian government services simpler, clearer, faster and more humane.

It has been a real privilege to be a part of the team at GDS – I’ve learned a lot from my time working with this talented and dedicated team, and being a part of government in the UK. I’m proud of what we have achieved.

I’m particularly proud to leave behind a government who now has many talented and experienced user researchers working tirelessly to understand user needs and to work with teams to ensure that the services we design meet those needs. Not just in GDS, but in almost every department you can think of.

I’m excited to take what we’ve learned and bring it home to Australia and see if we can’t just do some things even better :)

Thank you GDS, thank you UK UX Community, and thank you London. I’ll miss you a lot.

And, hello Sydney. If you fancy being a part of this next adventure, you should get in touch.

where does crazy come from?

You can imagine how this went down.

The lawyers decided that the privacy policy needed updating, so they updated it and put it on the website.

Then they decided that they had to make sure people knew about it. Who knows why… I can only imagine because they’re actually starting to do something that they know people probably won’t really be happy with (or they’re beginning to admit that’s what they’re doing), so they need to prove that a certain number of customers knew about it.

They say, ‘put a sign up in the stores, we have to do this because this is a risk to the business. It could damage our brand and cost a fortune in law suits’.

No one wants to be the person who is putting the company at risk and responsible for lawsuits, so they don’t ask any questions except for what is the cheapest and easiest way to meet the lawyers’ needs.

I imagine the email the lawyers sent (it would totally have been an email and not a meeting), the meeting to discuss what to do about the lawyers email, all the emails to argue about which type of signage they’d use, what would get bumped so this sign could exist, arguing over the wording. And finally, the meeting where someone approved this.

And so it is that, as I go to buy some paracetamol, I am informed that the privacy policy has changed and I can find out about this on the website.

I wonder – is this just the website privacy policy, or the Boots loyalty card privacy policy, are those the same things or different?

I wonder – how many people would pull out their phones or rush back to their desks to find out what changes have been made (I did… I couldn’t resist. There’s nothing to draw your attention to this information on their website and the section on privacy doesn’t make any reference to recent changes). Even if I do want to find out about the changes to this policy, I can’t see how on earth I might meet that need on their website.

I wonder – did they think about how it would make people feel or act to see this.

I wonder – did anyone fight for this not to happen? They probably did. Fear won.

I wonder – if a law suit did come up, could Boots actually prove that this has sufficiently informed people of the change to the privacy policy? Probably not.

I wonder – what opportunities were lost to actually understand the end user need and design a way of meeting that need in a way that benefitted the relationship between Boots and their customers.

You see these little things that companies do, you can see that all they’re doing is ‘ticking a box’, a token effort for the lawyers or whoever else, and you know that they’re pushing the burden onto the customer, and probably missing gigantic opportunities to be really great.

Fixing the crazy way things like this happen is at least as important as designing the shiny signs and the websites.