What Are Words Worth in UX?

Rebecca Bell - April 03rd, 2019

As a marketer and English Literature graduate you might expect me to care about words.

Words have the power to create joy, evoke fear and uncertainty, make you angry or convey deep sadness – sometimes all in the same paragraph!

And if you’re trying to persuade or educate a customer to take action on something, the words you choose to use are very important and will have an impact on the engagement or action you’re able to drive. In short, words matter.

It’s with this in mind that my team at The Floow has been spending a lot of time thinking about how the words we use contribute to the overall experience that users of our apps and solutions have when engaging with the technology.

Often times when you’re eyes-forward in a project or problem, you might fail to look up to see around you or listen to critical feedback that could change the game. To avoid this, the Marketing, Design and Product teams have been making use of feedback from end-user testing, app store reviews and customer service tickets to understand which are the words that might cause confusion. After aggregating these bits of feedback we’re now setting about fixing some of them.

Our approach to language refinement is focusing in a couple of areas. The first is possibly the most straightforward and that’s country localisation. We have a fast-growing business and a number of very important clients in North America so it’s essential that our solutions are provided in versions which reflect different language choices most relevant to those markets. It’s not just changing ‘s’ to ‘z’ in simple spellings. It’s acknowledging that in the US certain words have resonance and some do not. For example, the word ‘trip’ is preferred over ‘journey’ (which we use in the UK) so we use this in our US versioning. Lengthier word choices may have UI (User Interface) impacts more substantive than just swapping a word out so that kind of thing needs careful consideration.

The more involved piece of language work we’re doing goes beyond this localisation and into the realms of perceived understanding. When you’re a company ‘insider’ you become very familiar with what is meant by a certain set of words and may become ‘word-blind’ to the fact that others may not understand them in quite the same way. A good example of this is the use of words to name some of the component scores that we record and publish in our apps.

We talk about ‘Distraction’ a lot, which is a measure of how much mobile phone distraction is impacting a driver, including making and receiving calls, fiddling with apps, texting, or similar. But if we use the word ‘distraction’ without qualifying it to use of a smartphone, we can create confusion amongst drivers who question how the app could possibly know that they were distracted by their children, taking a drink or by eating a sandwich whilst driving!

A similar example is the notion of driver ‘fatigue’, which we consider to be a measure of the amount of time a driver has been continuously focused on driving during a journey without stopping for a break. Research shows that driving for longer than a couple of hours very often results in a loss of focus or concentration which can cause an accident. But using the word ‘fatigue’ to summarise this has caused questions amongst drivers who ask how we know that they happened to be very tired that day whilst making a journey!

We’re currently conducting a thorough exercise considering this sort of feedback to think about the words we use and make adjustments to some of them for the sake of clarity and understanding. With anything, this will never be perfect so it’ll be a process we come back to regularly, taking regular feedback into account.

Words and language are a critical part of our UX approach here at The Floow. Our ultimate goal is to create a frictionless, intuitive experience when using our apps, enabling engagement that might encourage drivers to become safer behind the wheel.

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