A typical scenario for a writer: a developer has been developing a fancy functionality for months and gets excited when seeing the writer: “Remember to mention DualSight MultiMotion in the user guide!” The writer cringes when hearing the name, but ensures the developer that the functionality is covered in the user guide. But instead of making the developer happy by writing: ”To enable DualSight MultiMotion, press…”, the writer makes the end user happy by writing: ”To record a video using both cameras, press…” – and knows that in the review phase, the developer will demand why the fancy name of the functionality hasn’t been mentioned.

Naming things that don’t need naming weakens usability. The end user is not familiar with the name, so the end user has to spend time in reading and learning the name, which slows down understanding, using, and learning the functionality. If the writer uses too technical or fancy names and terms, it also affects the product brand: the end user gets the impression that the products under this brand are difficult to use or not intended for the end user’s target group.

The biggest mistake a writer can make is to use a term that is not visible for the end user in the device or software. The end user has to learn the term, but cannot use it to navigate in the user interface of the device. If a phone’s user guide says: ”To make a call quickly, use Smart Dial”, the end user will automatically start looking for the text Smart Dial on the phone’s display. When the term is not found, the end user needs to continue reading: ”Simply start typing the phone number, and the phone suggests matching contacts.” It would have saved the end user’s time and effort to just write: ”To make a call quickly, start typing the phone number and select the one you want from the suggested contacts.”

Names and terms may also need to be translated and internationalised. The fancy sounding DualSight MultiMotion may be translated to something totally incomprehensible. For example, in Finnish it would be something like “Many-movement functionality with two views”. A term may not even have a meaning in some cultures. Fastlane mode means much more to an end user who lives in a country where there are fastlanes.

One cannot even take for granted that a writer would use only one name for one thing, as this bit from a user guide shows: In this user guide, the phone may be referred to either as ”phone,” ”device,” or ”handset”. One can only ask what an earth for.

When you’re about to name a thing, think first is the name really needed. Will the end user understand the name? Will the name help the end user learn to use the functionality? How will the name be translated? Has the name been used before, and if it has, in what form? If you still think a name is needed, go for it.

– Ulla