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.
Marti Gold, Distinguished Principal UX, Tonic3. We are the dedicated UX division of W3 Digital Agency, HQ in Buenos Aires Argentina with offices in Sao Paulo and Dallas, TX.
no point to presentations that tell people things they already know. Be bold. Make a statement. Don’t be afraid to say something controversial so long as you can back it up. The important thing is to provide new insights.
Single unifying theme: people HATE buzzwords.
These two mean the same thing. The first option seems silly. but….
Many sources simply said that using buzzwords is a way to “belong” to a group. That didn’t really make sense to me, for reasons we’ll get into for a minute. But I ran into this…
So we use buzzwords because…
You just DON’T talk like this at home. You don’t talk like this to your wife, your kids, or your friends, or even casual acquaintances outside of work. (Or even in professional settings with strangers like conference lunches)
The term “potentially monitored” may be the real Buzzword trigger.
Its not even strangers in professional settings. Bring up the “lunch at a conference” example
In recent years, this has caused the negativity surrounding buzzword use to grow.
Intention is to “soften” or reframe horribly negative news. But it reality, this often backfires and drives a wider wedge between people who really need to be communicating.
Anecdotal evidence: If you get an email from someone in your Campfire Group and it is filled with corporate jargon, the first thing you will do is check the CC line to see "who else is on this thread.”
Abstract terms has become a signal that you have management or executive potential. The irony is that even in the most REVERED Halls of the Business World…
Using corporate jargon does mean someone is competent or creative
All our contextual inquiries and stakeholder interviews and lab tests and everything else we used are based on our ability to extract real truths from people who have often been *trained* by a very powerful reward system to be ambiguous.
Not general buzzwords.
Star Trek yellow alert: Potentially bad, but easy to catch early and fix because its basically a vocabulary issue.
Might be nothing…. BUT might be the precursor of terror, depending upon your stakeholder’s interpretation of this next phrase….
Many of them read an abstract on LinkedIn about “Design Thinking” and their only takeaway was this phrase. Why? Because they work in spreadsheets and what the designers do looks like FUN! Post its and white boards and markers and snacks and groups of people talking and drawing…
Its sort of sad that we’ve become our own buzzword.
UX has come to mean anything from product concept validation to rapid prototyping to test interactions and flows to straight visual design.
I don’t know who said ”Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – but it should not only be a T-shirt, it should be a tattoo.
And I mean ANYTHING: copywriting, technical CMS issues, button text, navigation…
”The site has to be responsive, so you will also be responsive and do this now.”
This isn’t just a UI or visual design problem - this is often a full-on technical problem due to legacy code. There is often no way to start with the image on the left, and sprinkle “UI Responsive Dust” on it, and get the image on the right.
Good and bad news on this one: The problem is almost always setting expectations on the time it will take to do this. It is not advisable to give any estimates on this until you’ve had a detailed talk with your development team and have a handle on how much legacy code will have to be rewritten, and how many people there are who can do it.
During my research, I ran across so many different interpretations of MVP, that I gave up and went directly to the source.
But the interpretations of those words are vast. And everyone thinks their definition is the correct one. I came to realize that its often based on which letter is given the most prominence. Minimum: “MVPs are an experiment -- you only have to show the least amount possible to learn” to Viable: “the goal is to move a person from point A to point B - each step must do that with increasing fidelity and features” to Product : We build the most minimal version but unlike the “viable” interpretation, there’s no throwaway -- each iteration builds upon the next.” Then it circles back to Minimalists who say, “the product view totally wrong – they had to build a whole truck before they got any feedback…” AND the cycle starts again.
Walk… don’t walk…. Follow the standards…. Break the standards…. Follow the standards…. Back and forth over and over.
Ask the top question – and HOPE you don’t hear the answer in red.
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because not only is there a stakeholder you don’t know about, you are being specifically prohibited from contacting them. And you have no idea why.
Move from this…
Translation on the next slide:
UX Buzzword Landmines: 10 phrases than can undermine your best UX efforts
M A R T I G O L D | S E P T E M B E R 1 6 , 2 0 1 7
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
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
THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS PRESENTATION ARE MY OWN
AND DO NOT NECESSARILY (AND IN FACT PROBABLY DO NOT) REFLECT THOSE OF MY EMPLOYER, CLIENTS,
COLLEAGUES, IMMEDIATE AND EXTENDED FAMILY, PETS, OR FACEBOOK FRI ENDS.
“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
“If our existing teams start
working together, we’ll make
“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
Buzzwords are often
used to avoid terms that
recognized as negative.
“Reduction in Force”
My current favorite…
Sadly, “a college accent”
has become prerequisite for
advancement in the corporate world.
Wharton School of Business
the best talker
the best ideas.”
but what they
are saying is
As UX Pros,
we must deliver concrete results
in an environment that rewards
Not about general business
buzzwords like “synergy” or
Focus is on buzzwords in the UX and
product development field, and how
their “ambiguity” can impact your
The Top 10
Whenever you hear these terms,
STOP and CLARIFY
“We will need 4-5 iterations
in order to finalize this work.”
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.”
What Designers hear:
"Iteration" is essentially synonymous with
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.
What Developers/IT PMs hear:
“Iteration” is essentially
synonymous with “3 weeks.”
Your task when you hear “iteration”:
Do a quick
• 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
“Our organization embraces
Design Thinking in order to
generate innovative solutions.”
They could mean…
the need to
question everything, and
discoveries made along
They could also mean…
“Everyone is a designer,”
so they plan to
design the product
They just need someone
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
“We need UX expertise to improve our
overall customer experience.”
They could mean:
We truly understand
that “Prototype, Test,
is the best way to
create products that
They could also mean:
The product features are
already fully defined by
our Product Managers.
We need “UX”
to make the screens.
“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?”
“We want a product that is truly disruptive
and can move the needle.”
The Execs mean:
We want it
so it makes a
lot of money.
Yet neglect to mention:
about the way
doing it now.
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?
“We want to develop a comprehensive
content strategy to effectively reach our
“We want to have an MVP release
in Q1 of 2018.”
“You keep using that word.
I do not think it means
what you think it means.”
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
— Eric Reis
Let the interpretations begin . . .
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.
“Its very important that your designs
follow our brand standards.”
They do mean:
We have corporate
brand standards that
from fonts to colors
to page patterns,
…unless, of course,
doesn’t like them.
“They’re more what
are the “standards”?
• Get a copy of the most recent standards
documentation (There may be LOTS of these -
#askmehowIknowthis - visit styleframework.com)
• Spend an hour comparing those standards to the
company’s actual, published sites/apps
“We have some challenges in that area.”
They could mean:
Our Customer Care
Center experienced a
2% increase in
call volume over the
past 6 months.
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
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
• Best bet may be to ask multiple people for their
perspective on the “challenge” and gather info from
“Eventually, we’ll need to get buy-in
from John in Marketing.”
haven’t met yet
who can derail
“Can we invite
John from Marketing
to our next requirements
“No…No… There’s no
need to involve him at this
Find the real
• 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.
We all know the
importance of listening.
But listening with a bias can be
hazardous to your projects.
• 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
….and project communication
barriers will begin to drop.
When you stop using buzzwords,
you’ll quickly find that teammates
and colleagues stop using them
when speaking to you as well…
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
I hope this helps.