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Cutting Through The Jargon - RD217

Resourceful Designer

Release Date: 05/25/2020

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Communicate clearly and jargon-free.

Hero Image.
White Space.

I imagine, as you read each of those words, your mind quickly thought of each one’s meaning and how you use them.

To you, a designer, deciphering these words uses up the same amount of brainpower as reading the words eggs, horse, car, or house. There’s no need to burn brain calories contemplating them since they are second nature to you because you’re familiar with the jargon of the design industry. You wouldn’t be much good as a designer if you didn’t know what pixels or bleed or a wordmark, etc. were.

But you deal daily with people who are not in our industry. That’s why they hire you, after all, because of your creativity and knowledge of all things design.

But sometimes, that knowledge can become a crutch—especially when dealing with clients who don’t know what we know.

I recently had a Zoom chat with a new client looking for podcast cover artwork. The gentleman was in his 80s and starting a podcast about the commonalities between creationism in religion and science. He’s a retired professor of quantum physics with an in-depth knowledge of string theory. He’s no dummy. Some may even consider him a genius.

However, during our discussion about his podcast cover artwork, he asked me what a pixel was. He had read how podcast cover artwork should be 3000px by 3000px square. He was unfamiliar with the term but rightly surmised that pixels are a form of measurement. But he had no idea how big or small a pixel was because, in his vast knowledge of the inner workings of our universe, pixels had never come up.

This goes to show you that even the brightest minds don’t know everything from every field. And nor should they.

Maybe you’re thinking, “The guy was in his 80s, so that’s understandable. However, most people these days know what a pixel is.” And I’ll concede that point. I, too, believe most people know what a pixel is.

However, if you ask a non-designer how wide 300 pixels are, they probably couldn’t answer. You, on the other hand, could probably make a reasonably accurate guess as to how wide 300 pixels are. That’s because you’re familiar with them. You work with pixels daily and therefore have a good idea. For the rest of the world, there’s no reason for them to know how wide 300 pixels are.

Let’s get away from pixels.

What I’m getting at is jargon is an excellent way for us to learn, for us to share information and communicate with our peers, and for us to instruct the next generation of designers.

But jargon has no place when communicating with our clients unless you explain what you mean by the terms you use.

For example, I never tell a client I’m installing an SSL Certificate on their website because they have no idea what that means. Instead, I say I’m installing a security certificate because most people understand the word “security.” I then further explain, in terms they know that a security certificate encrypts the communication between a visitor’s web browser and their website. So when the browser and website are exchanging information, it’s like that information is put in a sealed envelope and handed to someone to deliver it to the other side. Nobody can see what’s in that envelope until it reaches its destination, and the appropriate party opens it.

Without a security certificate, it’s as if that information is delivered back and forth on sheets of notepaper that everyone can read.

When explained in these terms, a client can understand the importance of an SSL Certificate without knowing the jargon.

When you’re talking with your clients, be conscious of the terminology you use. If you need to use jargon, make sure the client understands what you are saying. If you’re not sure, ask them.

For example, “I think a wordmark would suit your brand. Do you know what a wordmark is?”

Don’t presume the client knows what you’re saying. Give them a chance to learn during the process by asking. They’ll appreciate and trust you more for it.

Clients are guilty of using jargon as well.

Communicating with our clients is not the only time jargon comes into play. Our clients are just as guilty of this when they deal with their clients or customers.

Industry speak, another word for jargon is seen in marketing material everywhere, mucking up the message it’s trying to relay.

Your job as a designer isn’t to create pretty designs for your clients. It’s to ensure your designs tell a precise and accurate message, a message that provides a solution for your clients. One that those who see it will understand.

One of my clients is a Chiropodist (foot doctor).

When he acquired a new state of the art laser unit to help him treat various foot ailments, he asked me for a new brochure to help him spread the word. Rightly so. It was a great addition to his clinic. However, the way he wanted to spread the news was all wrong.

He sent me the text for the brochure he wrote himself. Copy that included all sorts of technical information about his new laser, information full of jargon that only other chiropodists would understand and find appealing.

I could have taken the information he supplied me and designed a beautiful looking brochure that would have ultimately failed. It would have failed, because his target market, people with foot problems would be confused by the industry jargon and not understand the benefit they’d receive from the new laser unit.

Instead, I sat down with my client to discuss not what the laser does or how it works or the technology behind it. But how it benefits his patients, what it means as far as their treatments go, how it speeds up the healing process requiring fewer and shorter visits, how it’s safer than the older traditional methods for treating different foot conditions.

We eliminated the jargon and explained in easy to understand terms why people suffering from foot problems should book an appointment with him.

And you know what?

After distributing his brochures to doctor’s offices and clinics around the area, he saw a spike in new patients asking about his new laser treatment. I’m convinced that replacing the jargon with easily understood copy is what made that project a success.

Your job is to ensure your client is thinking about their project from their target’s point of view. It doesn’t matter what your client thinks or likes, just as long as it appeals to their target market.

Convincing your clients.

It’s not always easy to convince clients to think in terms of their target market. I know. I’ve been a designer for over thirty years, and I still have trouble doing it. But here’s something you can try.

Ask your client to imagine that a grade-schooler is doing a research project on their brochure, website or whatever it is you’re designing for them.

With the information provided, do they think a grade-schooler would understand it? If not, then they should change the wording of the message.

If they argue that their target market isn’t grade-schoolers, remind them that according to studies, when interpreting instructional or informative texts:

  • 49% of the global population have basic or below basic reading skills. (In the USA that number is 52%.)
  • 12% of the global population read at a grade 9-10 level or lower. That’s the same percentage in the USA.
  • Only 2% of the global population read at a grade 11 level and up.

What this means is, people have a hard enough time comprehending the instructions or information they read that you shouldn’t complicate it by adding jargon to the mix.

There are some exceptions when jargon is beneficial.

I recently built a new website for an engineering company that manufactures control systems for industrial plants, hospitals, hydro dams, airports, etc. Any business requiring industrial automation.

My client didn’t need this website to attract new clients. They needed it for recruitment. The problem they faced was weeding out the skilled and capable engineers amongst the hundreds of resumes they receive every month.

So in their case, we used all sorts of industry jargon that only the most qualified candidates would understand.

Since its launch, they’ve received few resumes, but the quality of candidates increased.

So there are some instances where jargon can be beneficial. But in most cases, jargon should be saved for conversations amongst your peers.

When talking to your clients, you should make a conscious effort to minimize the jargon you use or at least explain it in terms your clients will understand.

And don’t be offended if they ask you to clarify something. There are no dumb questions when posed by the uninformed.

If you take care of your clients, they’ll be more impressed and more loyal to you.

Resource of the week Coolors.co

Coolors.co is a super fast colour scheme generator. Press the spacebar and create beautiful colour schemes that always work together.

Coolors.co also allows you to pick colours from uploaded images. You can adjust and refine colours by temperature, hue, saturation, brightness and more. You can also save your pallets for easy future access.

They also offer an IOS and Android app as well as an Adobe Add-on for Photoshop and Illustrator to display all your pallets in your programs.