Monday, October 26, 2009

Jargon is bad

Aaron was talking the other day on how using jargon is bad. The real problem is how to know if a word is jargon or not.

Example follows:

Yesterday my grandmother was bit by something she qualifies as jargon. She bought a new printer, one that can hold xD cards inside and print directly from there, when plugging the xD card she was told by the printer LCD "Do you want to format the card? Formatting the card in printer format will make it faster bla bla" and, she answered "Yes", and all the photos went to the heaven of photos.

The problem here is that we all know formatting means erasing, killing, vanishing the contents, but my grandmother did not. So should "format" considered jargon? Or maybe we should keep using format but on the confirmation question mention "erasing" too?


Anonymous said...

I'd say format is definitely jargon. It's very technical, as it refers to organizing the file storage structure in a particular way - something a majority of users haven't heard of, and with good reason I'd say: a user just wants the photos "be" on the card/disk/etc; they don't care about the "format" of file structure, they might event not care/realize that those photos are actually stored in the same way as files on their computer.

I don't want to imply that users are dumb, hell no. I'm just saying that a typical non-geek user wants things to work without them needing to understand how they work internally, and I consider disk/partition formatting a purely internal thing.

I think "erasing" should definitely be used in such case.

Fri13 said...

No, the "format" is not jargon. That function is just placed to very stupid place without real information what is happening.

The problem is very bad description of action.

If the function is that it will format card, then it is correct term there. The "erase" would be correct, if it would erase card, but leave the filesystem intact otherwise, simple saying, it wouldn't format the card.

They should change the function to delete files, not to format it. And then they could call it "erase all files?". And after that they could add description for the function.

Solid Smoke said...

The description should have a warning that "you'll lose any files on the disk" (or something similar). I'm sure I have seen such messages for several similar 'format'/disk-initialisation actions.

Anonymous said...

This also applies to plasma, plasmoid, widget, and anything that appears on the screen without a titlebar, unless it provides text via mouse-hover or similar means. That's why I'm not willing to use KDE4 yet.

Anonymous said...

maybe you can recover some photos with

Kevin Kofler said...

I think the real problem there is not with the terminology, but with why the heck a printer is offering to format a memory card, especially one which is clearly non-empty. Printers are there to print the contents they get fed with, it's their job to deal with whatever format you throw at it and not touch it. If the printer manufacturer really wants to offer that feature, it should be hidden in some submenu (and yes, there should definitely be a warning about it erasing all the data!), not be suggested in an unsolicited way.

Anonymous said...

If the function is that it will format card, then it is correct term there. The "erase" would be correct, if it would erase card, but leave the filesystem intact otherwise, simple saying, it wouldn't format the card.
It's not about is it correct or not. The question is in using special terms (jargon) when dealing with non-geek users.
So there is a dilemma:
1. Use correct terms, but have problems with non-geek users
2. Use "incorrect" terms but help novice users get what they want.
3. Alternative? ... Maybe always offer help button or tooltips to explaining jargon.

IMHO, correct terms are less important than helping users get what they want.

Anonymous said...

In this case, just use the correct term. It's not very technical - I would think that a majority of the users, although not knowing what exactly a "format" does, do know that somehow every media can be "formatted" to wipe its contents out.

The application's fault was not to explain that formatting the memory card would result in erasing its contents. Even DOS did warn the user before formatting a disk, and that was long before usability became a concern.

Formatting IS a technical operation, not an everyday task, so if an application insists in asking the user to do it, it should explain to him what that operation will mean for his data.

The application behaviour is broken, not the term.

Peterix said...

Seriously, I think that's a more of a bug than a feature. It just shouldn't be there. Or possibly be hidden behind several levels of menus and a big red warning sign...

Oh yes, let's format the card to some unknown filesystem that only the printer understands.

And then the camera will want to do the same.

And then I'd bring out the hammer, because both apparently suck :P

Fri13 said...

@blindvic "IMHO, correct terms are less important than helping users get what they want."

Correct terms are always the most important thing what you can do. Without correct terms, people who do not know the stuff, can not search help at all. If we start using own invented terms for functions what are well know, happens the real jargon.

Jargon is as well the information what is misleading because there is not a correct term used.

Lets think the printer by logical way.

You have 5-in-1 printer what has a 7-in-1 card reader on it. The device main point is to print files and scan files. Then possible even store scanned file to memory card if needed.

If storing possibility is found, then the format function is needed for the printer as well.

But, as most people knows, the memory cards are already formated (usually to FAT16) (some card manufactures not, because they do not want to pay to microsoft about patents) so the format function is not the one what is needed to show on first place, but somewhere on options.

The printer should have the knowledge to check the card and see if it has filesystem what it recognize. If not, then suggest checkin the card on computer or give option to format disk with warnings it will erase all the data on it.

I do not know why they even placed the format function to printer at first place. I can only think the storing functions for it. But it was very stupid to place it to such place that normal user gets that in front of him/her without good description what is going to happend. THAT was the mistake, not that it was "format".

It would be very unwise to start changing correct technical terms to such ones what does not mean anything else. If the card gets formatted, then it is "Format" and nothing else. If the cards files get deleted, then the correct term there like "Erase all files".

If the card gets formatted but you change the term for that "Erase all files". Then even experienced user gets misleaded to format the card who wanted to keep it example as FAT32 and not as FAT16 what device would format it.

Using the technical terms is not jargon at all when it is correct and needed. The important thing is to explain what it is going to do if the term does not tell it right away.

There is many devices whats usability has be raped because there is designers who are afraid about "Jargon" and they give such terms what is not used to such function on anywhere else. So when the people have learned what the term means, it does not do what they expect.

To help normal users, it is most important to use correct terms, but it does not mean you should only throw technical short versions in front of them. That is one difficult thing on usability.

Example to the action format card. You do not change the function what the device does for device, but just the test what is shown on screen.

1. Format YES/NO
2. Format (this erase all data) YES/NO
3. Erase all data (format) YES/NO
4. Erase all data YES/NO
5. Format (to FAT16) YES/NO
6. Format (this erase all data and change the filesystem to FAT16) YES/NO
7. Format (to FAT16) WARNING, this erase all data. YES/NO
8. Empty the card YES/NO
9. Clean the card YES/NO
10. Fix the card YES/NO
11. Fix the card (this erase all data) YES/NO

Refilwe Seete said...

While I agree with Aaron that there's no need to call every UI element by their internal names such as "plasmoid", there is definitely a place for using the correct terms for things. I also agree with some of the other posters here: The printer should not even have offered such a choice automatically.

It seems clear cut in this case to say "it should have said 'delete all'/'erase all' instead" but there a other cases where being too "user friendly" with terminology winds up being unfriendly for the user and even others who would support them.

Consider the multitude of removable media types there are for photos: xD, SD, CF, Memory Stick etc, etc. It would be easy for users for manuals and software strings to pretend that the type a user has is only one that exists - calling it "the picture card", rather than specifying what type of card is in use or being supported...until a user has a type the reader cannot use. Then simply calling everything "picture card" becomes a problem for all involved.

At some point, people need to learn basic terms for the stuff they use. Certainly we cannot use terms that only %5 understand, but there also needs to be a baseline of knowledge. Otherwise, we run the risk of regressing our documentation and UI strings to descriptions of descriptions all to avoid sounding "too technical" to some portion of the user base. Back to Aaron's plasmoids, even the term "widget" is a nonsense term for some. What then? At some point we simply need to put up an image with arrows that says "these are widgets, that is a taskbar, this is an icon" and then define those things.

IMHO, the solution is multipronged:
1. Use smart defaults and design
2. Use accurate terms that correspond with common knowledge where possible
3. Where the term cannot correspond with common knowledge - explain it