Sara Frank

Designing with words – Inspiration from UxLx conference

As design and innovation consultants we are continuously introduced to new industries and areas. This is part of what makes the job fun! We deep dive into new domains and there stumble upon terms and acronyms we have little or no previous knowledge of.

Part of the design process is to understand the meaning of the terms we encounter within a new area. This is one of the reasons why research is important. However, we cannot become experts in every field so we should never be wary to ask questions.

On the other hand we, the designers, also cause confusion if we do not carefully consider what words we use when talking to clients. I have seen how efficiently a design concept can spread within an organization, because we have found a smart name for it.

I also know of examples when a concept has been totally misunderstood only because it’s branded with a term that to the organization means something else.

Several of the speakers at this year’s UxLx conference in Lisbon talked about how to best communicate. Abbey Covert suggested a controlled vocabulary within organizations. I think this also goes for individual design projects. This could be achieved by a project dictionary that is shared, used and continuously added upon throughout the project.

Brad Frost, another speaker, found that the terms “elements”, “components” and “modules” caused confusion when referring to the parts in design systems. He therefore designed a more efficient way to describe the concept through “atoms”, “molecules” and “organisms” in his project Patternlab.io.

The words we choose have a great impact on how the content is understood and interpreted. “Hell is other people’s undocumented assumptions”, as Nicole Fenton put it in her talk at the conference. She also highlighted the fact that design is a process of articulation and how writing can be seen as the fastest way of designing.

The saying is that an image says more than a thousand words. But images and words need to work together for things to be efficiently understood, referred to and discussed. For me the conference was an important reminder of putting as much emphasis on designing with words as we do on the visual expression and how this is not only relevant for the final outcome but also during the design process.

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Read more about my learnings from the conference here: http://myuxlx.tumblr.com/

Sara Frank

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