FOWA07b: Erika Hall

Copy is interface
From Mule Design Studio. Take pride in the way that we integrate language in the interface. It’s daunting to come to England to talk about using language, talking about interface language in the wild, mainly from American sites, but not talking about internationalisation and writing for multilingual communities.

Been thinking about technology-mediated communications. The gestural interface used in Minority Report got people very excited. Sort of coming… but not quite. iPhone, though has some interesting things. Designing interface in a forward-thinking manner – you don’t know how people are going to use things. Wifi rabbit that reads your mail to you.

Have to think in a device independent way. Jacob Neilsen said that people don’t read on the web, but really we read differently. People assumed that meant you had to get away from words on the web. But the apps that people really love are made out of text. Even ads are now text based. Interacting with TV using text based systems. When we use a heavy literal metaphor, it seems retrograde, e.g. UPS Widget, it seems heavy-handed and seems more suited to 1996. Whereas a successful app is Craigslist, and it’s hardly a shining example of a lovely interface, but it’s very effective, specially for frequent use.

Language bridges the gap between people and systems.

Looking at a stream of data and wanting to pull out relationships from it. At Dopplr, they have good guiding principles, about simplifying everything and ceding control, and letting people access what they want how they want it. Words are important.

How do users benefit? In our own lives, we don’t priorities a pretty interface as much as we do access to information. The immediacy of having it right there, device independent, is important.

How will the web app developer benefit? You need to get people to find their application and understand what it’s all about. How do you get people to build up a habit about this – if you can use language well, the first experience someone will have of your app is reading something on your site, and that depends on how well you craft it.

There are very strong existing guidelines for using language well. Use a lot of skills, but it’s very easy to iterate through and something that’s interesting, if you’ve done a full redesign, switch the colours and the users freak out, but change the words and no one minds.

Five ways to get words right:
– Authentic: anything you develop should come from a clear principled place, and a desire to do something useful. If you have a strong sense of your service, what you are adding to the world, and everything you write precedes from that, it will work better. In big teams, people go for safe choices, and those are weasely, unclear and vague. But in small teams, you can be more honest in your language. Consumating promising something really real, i.e. find people who don’t suck. Compare to eHarmony which has very generic language, but promises something very ambitious and that’s emblematic of their site. Submit button is a key thing – do not use the word submit, because submitting is not something people really like to do in their lives.

People will also see 404 messages, it’s inevitable. Twitter does a good job, it seems like real people are behind the application. Retain the sense that your app is the means by which you communicate with people. Hero of clear language is George Orwell: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

– Engaging: e.g. School of Everything. Very simple, but very engaging, clear entry point in simple language: What do you want to learn? Another good site that’s got good tone is Virgin Atlantic, they temper the awfulness of booking air travel by flattering you a little bit and addressing you as a human. Citibank’s security question asks “Who was our arch rival when you were growing up?” showing a glimmer of interest in you as a human. Pownce: gender list includes, dude, chicky-oo, bloke, bird, lady, gentleman, etc.

– Specific: Language can offer, which no other interface can, is being specific. You can’t disambiguate in icons concepts like “future”, e.g. forecasting or futuristic. Etsy is good at being a lovely and humane site, even though they have a lot of room for images, they don’t stint on the language, they don’t make the icons do all the work. People have the idea that making people read makes things harder but it’s really sometimes a tremendous cognitive load to discern and differentiate between icons and figure out what they mean. eMusic, has specific button actions, such as “Change my plan”.

– Appropriate: Understand the role of the app in people’s lives. Apps are getting more conversational, but understand that whatever voice you are speaking in is appropriate to what you are doing. Disconcerting if your bank tries to be your buddy. Amazon has a good understanding people’s mindset, with “where’s my stuff?”. Use users’ own terms and concepts to help them find stuff.

Flickr had an Easter egg for Talk Like A Pirate day, and where they changed the language to pirate talk. Many people thought it was fun, but others thought that it had been hacked, so have to consider your audience.

– Polite: Very important. As long as you are considerate and respectful of the people coming to you, they will forgive a lot. But we’ve all had experience of a rude application taking up our time or using inappropriate language. Feedburner is a very polite site, talk about what you can do for the user, helps develop a rapport, and it’s not just that they use very service oriented language, they also try to be helpful, e.g. say “Activate Feed — Cancel and do not activate”, and they change the size of the font so that it’s clear which choice is likely the right one. Generally suggest people who stick with conventional vocab, but Subtraction says “add a remark” rather than “comment” which is raises expectations of standard of discourse.

Particletree, added default text “everyone needs a hug” into their comment box, as they were having major flame problems, but that decreased the flames.

Things people have done wrong, very general, but interesting to take a quick look at some misfires.

8 kinds of bad:
– vague: when “should” should be “must”; Apple saying “some warnings have occurred. Would you like to review them now?” – no one wants to review warnings; a bank that says “expand your relationship” instead of “open a new account”, but it sounds creepy.
– don’t be passive: easy habit to fall into, cos we’re used to “page not found”. Blinksale “Your account has been created”, but could say “We created your account”.
– don’t be too clever or too cute: that language comes from a good place, because people want you to have fun, but there’s a Cornish author who said “Murder your darlings”.
– don’t be rude: If you’re going to be rude, use proper capitalisation.
– Don’t be unhelpful – give useful error messages.
– Don’t be oblivious to your surroundings: people can access your app many ways. CNN “Don’t Miss” section that had “Bodies trapped in wreckage”, should have used “Related stories”; Facebook “is”, in their status, so end up with odd locutions.
– don’t be inconsistent: and this is the ‘my’ ‘your’ one. read your interface aloud, see if you sound dumb.
– don’t presume: USA Today assumed a page for their advertisers wouldn’t be seen by readers

Language is important, but you are still going to need designers because designing something very simple is very, very hard. The way you need to think through application will vary from application to application.

(Sorry, didn’t transcribe the questions.)

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