What are your UX language politics?

Further thoughts on “A Turn of Phrase: The Politics of UX Language,” an article I wrote that was published in the April, 2017 Politics and Design issues of UX Magazine by the UXPA.

Let’s talk about politics.

  • What UX concepts and methods do you rename to gain a shared understanding with non-UX folk?
  • When have you pushed language too far and had negative repercussions from renaming a method or concept?
  • When have you been successful in describing your work using UX jargon?
  • When have clients/stakeholders been caught in misunderstandings about your work?

Persona Purists

The word persona, and the concept in general, are a major point of contention in the UX and design world and I won’t discuss this issue in depth here. Suffice it to say that persona purists (like me) believe that if, and only if, significant research has been conducted with actual end-users and patterns have been identified, then, and only then, can you create something you refer to as a persona. In Validating Product Ideas, Tomer Sharon colorfully states (see image below) that without research you do not have a persona.

“You start with a bullshit persona, do your research, and only then do you have a persona. If you skip research, you’re left with bullshit.”Tomer Sharon

In my organization we use the term ‘Archetype’ to indicate what Tomer refers to as bullshit. The Archetypes are utter bullshit, however, this is a more acceptable (and easier to translate) way to talk about the situation. I all-to-often frustrate stakeholders with my resistance to call anything a persona that does not have research backing it up. Typically that friction is healthy and leads to the discussion we need it to — get us to the users and we’ll build personas.

What is the difference between a persona, a proto-persona, and a profile? Which is the correct term to use? Which should I use to communicate to other UX professionals the amount and type of research I’ve conducted to create the document? The politics within the UX industry regarding terms such as this can be infuriating, but are also important discussions. If we cannot align on our terminology, how can we expect our stakeholders to understand what we’re delivering?
— From “A Turn of Phrase: The Politics of UX Language” by Carol Smith

Usability [Not User] Testing

It drives me crazy (granted that’s a short trip) when ‘usability testing’ is called ‘user testing.’ User testing to me infers that we’re testing people to see if they can figure out our design work. Usability testing puts the emphasis on what is actually being tested (the interface and interactions) and reduces the focus on the participant’s performance.

Words matter. While we all slip up and say the wrong words all the time, the more carefully we chose how we use our words, the more likely we are to communicate what we intend to with accuracy and success.

UX Leader, speaker and community organizer. My thoughts on user research, design, AI and more. Provoking human values in AI.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store