Language in web teams

Sarah Winters, , Content design

As the content industry, many of us have strong opinions about using jargon and technical language.

But as someone who builds teams for organisations, I don’t see that same skill applied to ourselves when we communicate with each other.

When I create brand new teams, I’ll often do exercises to show how – even when we are in the same industry – we use different language.

This is especially important when the disciplines (design, research, content) are not used to working with each other. For example, how many of you have worked in a place where you get a picture of a design with the dreaded: “[words go here]” in a white box. Then you don’t get a chance to talk to the designer about why that box isn’t going to work for the page's video, calculator and calendar. Sound familiar?

Sometimes, I put a team together and it goes fabulously. Just because people haven’t worked in a multidisciplinary team before doesn’t mean they don’t want to or haven’t thought about it. Just means they have not had the opportunity.

However, I always think it is worth looking at how we actually talk to each other.

I have a couple of ways of doing this.

Share your knowledge

Knowledge-share sessions are incredibly important. People within a team often have a passion about one particular nuance of their skill. For example, some content people love accessibility or which words to use for form labels. I’ve met designers who can rattle off a long list of considerations for bullet point placement and size. It’s brilliant.

But not if you keep all that knowledge to yourself.

When I have a team who are not used to multidisciplinary working, I ask them to share knowledge about one thing they know will impact the other disciplines and one that won’t.

We start with the thing that will impact the other teams. Then the one that won’t. It always goes like this:

“So this won’t be of interest to anyone who is not a designer/researcher/dev/content person…[explains topic]”

3 second pause.

“Actually that impacts content in this way” says the content person.

“I wish we’d known that in research, we could have got to the answer faster” says the researcher.

And so it goes on.

There is very, very little that one discipline can do that doesn’t affect the others. (Can’t think of anything at all at the mo but there must be something somewhere.) The teams don’t have to know massive levels of detail, they don’t need to be an expert in your work. They have their own work to do and their own skills to practise.

However, I think it is much faster and more productive if each discipline knows the constraints and has a general understanding of the way others work. Then you know what you can get away with.

Crits (aka a critique)

You know I love a good crit. It brings teams together, improves the product and helps define/improve the style guide. I’ve talked about it before but it is worth mentioning. I think knowledge share and crits are 2 very quick ways to show the way the teams are using language.

Design, UX (user experience) and language: an example

My favourite example of showing language difference is to take the team out and run language exercises with them. I ask the teams to communicate in certain ways or give them certain constraints.

One particular example is when I took a team of content, design and UX designers (at the time, those 2 things were different – design was code and visual design, UX was how the interactions worked and user experience. It was a while ago) to the Tate Modern. I split the team in half. Half from each discipline. Everyone had a partner.

I took one half of the group into a room and told them to pick a picture.

They had to tell their partner outside of the room how to identify the picture they had chosen but without using colour or shape to describe it.

This is how it went:

The content people told a story: “From the air it looks like a house, with a garden and a pool”.

The designers used size: “look for a picture with 5mm, 50mm, 18mm”.

The UX designer said: “third picture on the left”.

Typical. Perfect. Very funny. But showing that we all have different ways of talking about the same thing.

It’s only when we understand our own internal language, that we can really do our best for our audience.

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