Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Choosing the Language for a User Interface

First in a series "Ask UXmatters" ....

"Q: We have a challenge that I’m sure is common to many software development efforts. Everyone on our team—including the user interface (UI) designer, product manager, quality assurance, developers, and documentation—wants to choose the words that show up in the user interface. We are having a really hard time naming page elements that represent business processes and objects. Language is so subjective, and we all consider ourselves experts. I’m wondering if there are any best practices for the process of choosing the language that appears in user interfaces. We’ve tried having smaller meetings with key team members and brainstorming, but always end up reaching compromises that no one really likes and are apt to create confusion for our users. We have great documentation people and use them throughout the process, but can’t figure out who should have the final say. Everyone is very unhappy with the choices we make when naming elements by consensus. We need to figure out a process that ensures we use the best language in the product. Who should own these decisions, and why?—from a UXmatters reader

Understanding the Problem

Colleen applauds this reader for this question, “The fact that you are asking about the process to arrive at the best language in the product means you already recognize that your product interface depends largely on language.” In fact, all of our experts agree that the choice of language is critical to the quality of all digital products. Dave states emphatically, “The language of your application is as fundamental to the user interface as the choice between a radio button and a check box.” Pabini says, “It’s important to come up with the best text possible, because despite the term graphic user interface, many of the user interface elements we actually design—as opposed to those that are part of an operating system user interface or framework—are text elements.”

Exclaiming “I bet everyone is unhappy!” Whitney describes three of the intermingled issues this reader faces. “First, the language in the interface is not separable from the user interface. People using your software don’t experience the visual style, interactions, and information in the interface separately. That’s why user experience is so difficult to get right—it’s inherently multidisciplinary, and takes expertise in many skills. You should be designing the language along with the rest of the interface."    (Continued via UXmatters, Janet M. Six)    [Usability Resources]

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