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UX Buzzword Landmines: 10 phrases than can undermine your best UX efforts

Every day, we are exposed to conversations, meetings, emails, and presentations filled with near endless streams of “corporate buzzwords.” While originally intended to clarify complex concepts, many of these words and phrases have devolved into meaningless abstractions whose definitions vary widely between different organizations and teams. This presentation will take a humorous yet insightful look at ten buzzwords every UX professional should recognize as potential landmines of confusion. For each one, we will offer ideas and techniques to help you cut through this ambiguity, thereby increasing your understanding of the project’s real goals and improving the effectiveness of your proposed solutions.

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UX Buzzword Landmines: 10 phrases than can undermine your best UX efforts

  1. 1. M A R T I G O L D | S E P T E M B E R 1 6 , 2 0 1 7 Buzzword Landmines The 10 phrases that can undermine your best UX efforts @ B I G D E S I G N # B I G D 1 7 # 1 0 B U Z Z W O R D S
  2. 2. marti gold D I S T I N G U I S H E D P R I N C I P A L , U X @ M A R T I G O L D
  4. 4. “By leveraging our existing skillsets and increasing collaboration between internal groups, we can create synergies that will improve overall efficiencies, resulting in improved KPIs and enhanced overall product quality.” “If our existing teams start working together, we’ll make more money.”
  5. 5. Yet we all use them. Why?
  6. 6. “Because power activates abstraction…, perceivers may expect higher power individuals to speak more abstractly, and therefore will infer that speakers who use more abstract language have a higher degree of power. Across a variety of contexts and conversational subjects in 7 experiments, participants perceived respondents as more powerful when they used more abstract language (vs. more concrete language).” JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, JULY 2014
  7. 7. They make us sound smart and powerful.
  8. 8. on the other hand…
  9. 9. Buzzwords are not included in anyone’s “Friends and Family Plan”
  10. 10. I’ve observed that buzzwords are mostly used during “potentially monitored” interactions between people or teams … A “Marti” Observation: … who are not *really* in the same group.
  11. 11. BUZZWORD LAND Talk… Work… Laugh… Chat… Work…Talk…. “Campfire Group” Talk… Work… Laugh… Chat… Work…Talk…. “Campfire Group”
  12. 12. Buzzwords are often used to avoid terms that are universally recognized as negative.
  13. 13. “Restructuring” People are going to lose their jobs. “Workforce adjustments” “Reduction in Force” “Create operational efficiencies” “Involuntary entrepreneurship” My current favorite…
  14. 14. Buzzwords = “Not Us” No Buzzwords = “Us” No Buzzwords = “Us”
  15. 15. Sadly, “a college accent” has become prerequisite for advancement in the corporate world.
  16. 16. Adam Grant Professor Wharton School of Business “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
  17. 17. how people say things is important but what they are saying is always more important.
  18. 18. As UX Pros, we must deliver concrete results in an environment that rewards intentionally abstract communication skills
  19. 19. About this list Not about general business buzzwords like “synergy” or “engagement” Focus is on buzzwords in the UX and product development field, and how their “ambiguity” can impact your timelines.
  20. 20. so without further ado…
  21. 21. The Top 10 Whenever you hear these terms, STOP and CLARIFY
  22. 22. # 10 “Iteration” “We will need 4-5 iterations in order to finalize this work.”
  23. 23. DESIGNERS DEFINE “ITERATION” “A design methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a product or process. Based on the results of testing the most recent iteration of a design, changes and refinements are made.” Wikipedia What Designers hear: "Iteration" is essentially synonymous with “testable version.”
  24. 24. DEVELOPERS DEFINE “ITERATION” An iteration is a timebox during which development takes place, the duration of which may vary from project to project, usually between 1 and 4 weeks. – AGILEALLIANCE.ORG What Developers/IT PMs hear: “Iteration” is essentially synonymous with “3 weeks.”
  25. 25. Your task when you hear “iteration”: Do a quick vocabulary check • You will often be in meetings with people from both IT and Business • Tech Marketing has picked up many terms from Developers – but they don’t always mean the same thing (What does “Template” mean?) • Just take a moment to and confirm that everyone is using the same definition
  26. 26. # 9 “Design Thinking” “Our organization embraces Design Thinking in order to generate innovative solutions.”
  27. 27. “everyone is a designer”
  28. 28. They could mean… They understand the need to question everything, and will allow discoveries made along the way guide the product design. They could also mean… “Everyone is a designer,” so they plan to design the product themselves. They just need someone who knows Sketch.
  29. 29. Your task: Confirm your role • “Do you see us as actively leading the product definition and user discovery efforts?” • “Do you see us as SMEs and process moderators for your product team during the definition phase?” • “For budgeting, how should we split resources between experience designers vs. hands-on prototypers and visual designers?”
  30. 30. # 8 “UX” “We need UX expertise to improve our overall customer experience.”
  31. 31. They could mean: We truly understand that “Prototype, Test, Learn, Repeat.” is the best way to create products that users love. They could also mean: The product features are already fully defined by our Product Managers. We need “UX” to make the screens.
  32. 32. Your task: Clarify the Discovery vs. Implementation Efforts “We have a multi-disciplinary team. How do you see the available resource allocation between customer research professionals when compared to interaction or visual designers?”
  33. 33. # 7 “Disruptive” “We want a product that is truly disruptive and can move the needle.”
  34. 34. The Execs mean: We want it BIG so it makes a lot of money. Fast. Yet neglect to mention: Without actually changing anything about the way we are doing it now.
  35. 35. Your task: Is this organization’s culture ready for “disruption”? • “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” • Is the executive team ready to face and endure the in-depth change processes, across all departments, necessary to overcome their organization’s deeply embedded cultural identity?
  36. 36. # 6 “Content Strategy” “We want to develop a comprehensive content strategy to effectively reach our target markets.”
  37. 37. This could mean ANYTHING involving words.
  38. 38. Can you give me more details on how your group defines “Content Strategy” ?
  39. 39. # 5 “Responsive” “We need to redesign our site so it is fully responsive.”
  40. 40. This often means: “One of our C-Level Execs got a call from a C-Level customer who couldn’t use our site on his phone.”
  41. 41. Your Task: “By when?”
  42. 42. # 4 “MVP” “We want to have an MVP release in Q1 of 2018.”
  43. 43. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
  44. 44. THE DEFINITION OF “MVP” “A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” — Eric Reis
  45. 45. Let the interpretations begin . . . MVP MVP MVP
  46. 46. Your task: What does your stakeholder mean by “MVP”? • Everyone is convinced “their” interpretation is the correct one. • Even on page one of Google results for “MVP”, the definition is passionately argued, yet inconsistent. • Getting everyone in your org <buzzphrase> “on the same page” </buzzphrase> is the important thing.
  47. 47. # 3 “Brand Standards” “Its very important that your designs follow our brand standards.”
  48. 48. They do mean: We have corporate brand standards that include everything from fonts to colors to page patterns, which you MUST follow…. They usually also mean: …unless, of course, our team doesn’t like them.
  49. 49. “They’re more what you'd call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”
  50. 50. Your task: How “standard” are the “standards”? • Get a copy of the most recent standards documentation (There may be LOTS of these - #askmehowIknowthis - visit • Spend an hour comparing those standards to the company’s actual, published sites/apps
  51. 51. # 2 “Challenges” “We have some challenges in that area.”
  52. 52. They could mean: Our Customer Care Center experienced a 2% increase in call volume over the past 6 months.
  53. 53. They could also mean: We’ve lost 82.5% of our market share in the past 90 days, and our stock was just downgraded to “sell and run like hell” by industry analysts.
  54. 54. Your task: Determine the size of the “fire” • This will be far easier said than done • You are not yet part of their Campfire Group so they will be reluctant to share anything genuinely negative • Best bet may be to ask multiple people for their perspective on the “challenge” and gather info from different viewpoints
  55. 55. # 1 “Buy in” “Eventually, we’ll need to get buy-in from John in Marketing.”
  56. 56. There is someone you haven’t met yet who can derail the whole project.
  57. 57. “Can we invite John from Marketing to our next requirements gathering session?” “No…No… There’s no need to involve him at this early stage.”
  58. 58. Your task: Find the real Stakeholders • Depending on the corporate culture, this can be a delicate and dangerous quest. • If you are lucky enough to have “Campfire Friends” within the client company, ask them. They can give you background info and steer you clear of the rocks and shoals. • Do NOT just add someone from Marketing to the “cc” line of a project status email.
  59. 59. We all know the importance of listening. But listening with a bias can be hazardous to your projects.
  60. 60. • Make list of 3-4 buzzwords you use regularly. • “Gamify.” Ask your teammates to simply raise their hand whenever you use those words. • Be shocked by how often you see their hands. • Become aware of the overuse, and begin to use simpler terms. Start by simplifying your own communications
  61. 61.
  62. 62. ….and project communication barriers will begin to drop. then watch magic happen When you stop using buzzwords, you’ll quickly find that teammates and colleagues stop using them when speaking to you as well…
  63. 63. “They” Campfire Group Campfire Group
  64. 64. “They” A Happy, Productive Campfire Group Talk… Work… Laugh… Chat… Work…Talk…. Talk… Work… Laugh… Chat… Work…Talk….
  65. 65. Hopefully, the value proposition of this data has been on target, and the concepts presented may assist you in your attempts to minimize the barriers that can hinder the effectiveness of your product development communication processes.
  66. 66. I hope this helps. Thanks. @martigold #10buzzwords