Zeldman wrote, in an excellent post on Vocabulary vs. Storytelling:
AFTER ALL THESE YEARS designing websites and applications, I still don’t think in words like “affordance.” And when my colleagues use a word like that, my mental process still clatters to a halt while I seek its meaning in a dusty corner of my brain…
Should you ask B.B. King if the lick he just played was in Lydian Mode, he could probably answer you after stopping to think about it. But after all these years playing blues guitar, B.B. King doesn’t say to himself, “I’m going to switch to a Lydian scale here,” he just plays blues. Scales and vocabulary are necessary when we are learning the craft behind our art. But the longer we practice, the more intuitive our work becomes. And as it becomes more intuitive, it disconnects further and further from language and constructs.
My singular divergence from his theme is the notion that intuition and language are mutually exclusive. They are more a set of different lenses than competitors, as you see different things depending on which lens you use. Knowledge of theory can inform intuition and vice-versa – a true master sees value in both, as there are things you can learn from each you can’t learn from the other.
However my primary reason in writing is to call out the class of people in all fields that only feel smart when they are making others feel dumb. I call them weenies, and there are plenty of design and UX weenies out there, just as there are geek weenies, marketing weenies and writing weenies. They’d rather talk than do, which biases them towards unnecessarily sophisticated language. They make lots of diagrams and offer lots of advice, preferring to be in the abstract than to offer their own specific ideas.
Even in cases where they are great designers, they can fall into weenie mode. Their ego blinds them into thinking their talent gives them the license to bludgeon others with theories and names the other person couldn’t possibly know. And the corollary is they assume anyone who doesn’t know the exactly facts and theories they know couldn’t possibly be a good designer. Task analysis, kerning, information architecture, composition, Paul Rand, contextual inquiry, Dieter Rams… anything said with disdain for those who don’t understand says more about the speaker than the listener.
True designers, or experts of any kind, should be ambassadors for their ideas and their craft. An expert has to know that most of the world is ignorant of their expertise, and the only way for great design, or UX, or whatever, to be more valued in the world is if the experts make the ignorant feel good about learning what they don’t know. Big words and fancy concepts are intimidating by design and any designer who uses them under the guise of teaching / inspiring / motivating should know better. All they are likely doing is intimidating the other person out of the conversation. This strokes a weenie’s ego as they think it’s a victory, but in truth there is no progress.
If you really want to change the world, don’t be a weenie. Be a teacher. Be kind in helping people overcome their ignorance. If you’re so talented, you shouldn’t be surprised or angry at how stupid everyone else is. Make it fun and safe for them to learn. And in your professional circles, don’t bet on vocabulary or name dropping, bet on your ideas. A sketch of a good idea doesn’t need $10 words or 20 layer Venn diagrams to be understood. If you don’t have the confidence to let your ideas stand tall, and you dismiss the discipline of learning to communicate your ideas well, theory and intimidation are not going to save you from yourself.
Q: What UX / design jargon to you think is most abused, unnecessary or counterproductive?