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Oct 13, 2010: Banned terms for information architects

I'll bet dollars to donuts that you don't go a day without encountering one of the following terms at work:

  • redesign
  • featured sites/resources/etc.
  • related links
  • advanced search
  • building community
  • social media (and social just about anything else)
  • portal

They're meaningless crutches; the lorem ipsums of information architecture. Really, they're worse than meaningless. They enable us to defer dealing with tough issues (e.g., "what do we really mean by a redesign anyway?"), but the difficulties don't go away. They just compound their way to another day.

At a client meeting today, I did something that I've always wanted to do: I banned the term "redesign". I tried to make it fun, charging $1 if the clients said it, and $5 if I did (the money was to go to the poor temp who got stuck with the job of taking notes). Kind of like what we do at home when we swear in front of the kids. Anyway, it seemed to work; kick ass discussion and, thankfully, it's no longer a "redesign" project.

What terms would you ban?

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Comment: Gabby Hon (Oct 13, 2010)

Concept -- no one agrees on or has a shared understanding of what this means.

Framework -- ibid.


"I think this will confuse the user." -- based on what evidence? Commonly used to torpedo things team members don't personally like.

And, finally, the real devil:

Best Practice(s) -- it simply must die.

Comment: Cory Kaufman (Oct 13, 2010)

I would really like to hear more about *why* these words are banned. What do you recommend doing instead?

Comment: Keith Instone (Oct 13, 2010)

Made me laugh, since we recently had a specific effort to change the way some projects were organized because they were labeled "redesign" and that term was causing some problems. We now have slides with "redesign busters" on them - red circle/slash thru the term. And about once a day I say "there is no such thing as the redesign, tell me specifically what you mean".

Comment: Harry Vermeulen (Oct 13, 2010)

Totally agree, these words are too commonly used to describe undefined visions in ones head. It's a lot more productive to discuss the actual content of the word, which can be playfully triggered by charging for saying it haha ;)

Might have to introduce that in Osaka as well.

Comment: joe (Oct 13, 2010)

The sentence I hear at every meeting when discussing a website is: "What we're looking for is something that has a simple, easy-to-use navigation." Really?

Comment: Yvonne Shek (Oct 13, 2010)

Very tempted to string all those terms into one sentence for you, Lou. But just too tired.

Comment: Mike (Oct 13, 2010)

When you do something that takes a really long time and makes everything more complex because it's "good for SEO".

It works both ways though, because no one really knows all the aspects of what is "good for SEO", so if you want a client to accept something, you just tell them it is good for SEO and the argument goes away.

Other similar terms are "security issues", or "regulatory issues". If you're in a pharma and you say 21 CFR part 11, or in a medical environment and you say HIPAA, or in other industries and talk about Sarbanes-Oxley, you can immediately end and argument by saying what they are proposing breaks one of these massive regulations that no one fully understands.

Comment: mantruc (Oct 13, 2010)

"for this new redesign project, we will give more prominence to the featured resources, create a better matching algorythm for the related links and improve our advanced search. But the real focus will be in building community by embedding social media into our portal."

There you go, and in order!
Seriously, I like your proposal. But you got me with social media, I've always preferred this term to others. What's your take on this one?

Comment: Alex (Oct 13, 2010)

I think there's one word that would affect us all in a positive way if we simply got rid of it ;

Context (and contextual)

*Explain* the context rather than claiming it is there. he former is - as is established as a good thing - testable, while the latter is opinion and fluff.

Comment: thehilker (Oct 13, 2010)

i'm increasingly acquiring a distaste for "intuitive" simply because it's so vague. it doesn't point towards a solution.

in my brief experience, a reference to intuition can also be a crutch in the absence of a real argument. i don't know that we should be as concerned with intuition but rather the clarity and consistency of our system with the other systems our expected users are familiar with.

yes, my labels may be unclear. the locations may be unconventional. but please, people: tell me so.

Comment: Jane Pyle (Oct 13, 2010)

Just the mention of the word "redesign" gives me a fright. I wasted five years doing redesigns of corporate departmental websites. For me, redesign always meant basically give the website a new coat of paint, have no content strategy and after the site has launched, completely forget about the site until the next redesign.

Comment: Alex Debkalyuk (Oct 14, 2010)

Great post! I agree...

I'd also ban 'usable' and 'usability' in its common meaning. Anybody can create a usable product these days. Making great user experience is what matters.

Comment: Nathanael Boehm (Oct 14, 2010)

Gabby, in government we now have to use "Better Practice" :)

Comment: Rogier (Oct 14, 2010)

Yes, let's ban all those words. Instead of "redesign" we'll say "steak knife" and "concept" should be replaced with "daffodil" of course.

Seriously though: if we create a *shared understanding* by defining these words beforehand, there is no problem.

Words are tools and it's up to us to make sure our clients use them properly.

Comment: Alex (Oct 14, 2010)

@rogier The problem isn't shared understanding or a vocabulary, the problem is overloading of those words, of semantic drift and sometimes even outright bullshitting clients because *they* don't have that "shared" understanding; it's getting dangerously close to business speak, a true evil that people who deal in usability, IA and linguistics should have the brains to avoid.

Comment: Dan Barley (Oct 14, 2010)

There are also some phrases that I'd like to hear more often, like 'what's in it for the use?', 'why should the user care?' and 'what do we expect the user to do with this?'

Comment: Kaishin (Oct 14, 2010)

'UX design'. Sounds plain awkward to me.

Comment: Stew Dean (Oct 14, 2010)

Personalisation -- if you designed you website / intranet correctly you wouldn't need this. Making a site react to the user is good, customisable widgets just get in the way. The big problem is that clients love the idea, end users will say the want it but in use few use them and it makes your website / intranet less effective.

Usability -- it's lost it's meaning over the years and whilst usability should be an aspect of user experience(that is making things as easy and quick and relevant to the user) it's best used in the same way as accessibility.

Portal -- couldn't agree more.

Microsite -- I wish these where dead. They're the web site version of a cheese burger. Appatising, short lived and not very good for you.

Comment: Jon (Oct 14, 2010)

Love the list! The word I'd want to ban is: "user", I can't seem to get over my dislike of that word (maybe it's just me?). I much prefer to call them what they are: "Shoppers", "Customers", "Searchers" or whatever a word you want to use to humanize the person and the task they want to accomplish.

The other one, and this is a current pet peeve, is Knowledge Management. What we really want is Knowledge Usage.

Wow, I feel better! :-)

Oh, and I like what @joe said above!

Comment: Daniel Szuc (Oct 14, 2010)

* Innovation
* Critical launch date
* Knowledge Management
* Content Owner
* Enterprise systems
* Silos


Comment: Garth Braithwaite (Oct 14, 2010)

Good list. Just a few additions.


Comment: Raquel Hirsch (Oct 14, 2010)

Here is a link to a White Paper that will help clients understand what to ask for when working on a "web redesign"

"Five Steps to Developing a Successful and Scalable Conversion Optimization Strategy" http://bit.ly/9PqG6n

Comment: Gabby Hon (Oct 14, 2010)

I think we can all agree that Raquel just scored a banned terms Scrabble 'bingo' with that one!

Comment: Nicola Bonora (Oct 14, 2010)

We - as a "web redesign agency" - should suddenly disappear in 5 seconds, 4, 3...
Loved your post.

Comment: Steve Downey (Oct 14, 2010)

"Buttons" -

I have a client for whom every hyperlink is a "button" - links, features, callout panels, etc.

Comment: Kevin Parker (Oct 16, 2010)

A term I think we need to bring back even if we need to "contextualize" it is "balance." Taking the Krugman "Don't Make Me Think" approach, we should use simple terms that have broad, consistent meaning where possible, avoiding buzzwords that make us sound like the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert. But against the extreme, Rogier makes an excellent point. There are no two people on earth who have a 1:1 matching of vocabulary understanding. What's best is for the people in the same room to find the common words that are as close to possible to representing the ideas they are trying to communicate (both sender and receiver). And if you have to, you start every meeting with a vocabulary review. "Context" is everything in communication, and we IAs should know that better than anyone.

That said, PLEASE let's ban these terms from IA/ECM meetings:
* SharePoint
* "not ready" (or "not mature enough yet") for EIA
* SharePoint
* "boil the ocean"
* SharePoint

Comment: Kevin Parker (Oct 16, 2010)

Sorry, it's "Krug" as in "Steve Krug." I need better epistemological meta data recall ability to optimize the quality of the managed knowledge in my master data gray matter repository. Or else more sleep.

Comment: h (Oct 17, 2010)

What about just banning talking altogether? Most talk is just gibberish anyway. Maybe do a meeting where everything has to be drawn or diagramatically described.

Or what about just banning meetings, so no talking, and no meeting in which to talk.

And ban blogging too.

Comment: Lou (Oct 17, 2010)

Hey, H, how about I ban you?

Comment: Jennifer Bohmbach (Oct 19, 2010)

I'm not sure that banning any term is actually a user-friendly approach. People understand what they understand. If the term redesign doesn't have meaning - then define the terms in context for what you are doing.

Personally, I'm always trying to make sure the things people are discussing are understood but that isn't going to drive from a list of terms I don't use-just sayin.....

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