Jargon guidelines in product design

When designing a product, terminology can be as important as a product feature or content. Using unrecognizable terms for navigation can make features and content impossible to find. After all, if you can’t find it, it doesn’t exist. To that end, it is generally good UX practice to avoid jargon. But what happens when your users are steeped in jargon?. What should UX practitioners do?
Let’s start with a definition. Merriam-Webster defines jargon as…

  1. The technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group
  2. Obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words
  3. Confused, unintelligible language

Considering the first part of the definition, jargon might be understood by a specialized group of users and therefore, not something you need to avoid. However, for general audiences, jargon can be particularly bad if not harmful to the user experience.

Here are some helpful guidelines to avoid the pitfall of jargon in product design.


  1. Make sure you have clearly identified the target user of your product
  2. Understand the nomenclature (the words used in particular discipline 😉
  3. Use taxonomy validation techniques like “affinity diagraming” or “name that thing”
  4. Avoid acronyms (TSOHF)
  5. Use layman’s terms or natural language whenever possible.
    • Ask yourself; would my mother, grandmother or uncle understand it?
  6. Provide simple definitions or examples for questionable terms
    • Be sure to remove unnecessary words – keep these short
    • Read aloud to a colleague – you may hear something you don’t see
    • Write at a sixth-grade reading level


  1. http://www.w3.org/TR/UNDERSTANDING-WCAG20/meaning-idioms.html
  2. http://support.google.com/richmedia/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=157517
  3. http://www.google.com/ads/innovations/dynamicdisplayads.html
  4. http://www.bizreport.com/2010/10/unicast-upgrades-features-for-dynamic-content.html
  5. http://www.answers.com/topic/jargon
  6. http://commguide.asu.edu/writing/jargon
  7. http://www.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/allam/1914-/language/jargon.htm
  8. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/in_layman%27s_terms
  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_language