(Originally published 1/22/2016)
People often think that design is about how things look, but visuals are only a small part of user experience. One of the most important — and most overlooked — tools that designers use is language. The way a product “talks” to users can heavily impact their experience and behavior.
Designers use language in a number of ways. Text, of course, can directly communicate instructions or ideas, but there are subtler ways to “talk” to users. Labels for different parts of an interface are often metaphors that suggest how they should be used: a “dashboard” should have controls and settings that the user can review and adjust, a “newsfeed” should have up-to-date content for users to browse, and so on. Labels can also suggest future action. Imagine a learning app, for instance, with a leisure section where users can take a break from studying. By naming this section “Refueling Station”, the designer can send a cue to users that they should continue studying soon.
The most powerful thing about language is that it can be used to place users into conversations and guide what they “say.”