Make it Concrete

I design websites.

That’s the quick answer I usually give people when they ask what I do. Noone is ever confused. They might not know exactly how a site works or the process that goes into creating one, but they a usually have a strong grasp on the idea. Once I start mentioning wireframing, user flows, or interaction design they start to lose that grasp they had when it was just website design. These new terms add a whole new layer of abstraction to their notions of a website. Their once concrete idea of website design starts to soften up a bit.

On Naming Land

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a group that helps protect environmentally precious areas. There is an oak savanna of brown hills east of Silicon Valley that the group was trying to protect but were having trouble gaining needed support. TNC knew it was an important area but had a hard time building enthusiasm for a bunch of brown grass. So what did they do? They gave the savanna of brown hills a name. Mount Hamilton Wilderness.

Identifying the area as a coherent landscape and naming it put it on the map for local groups and policymakers.

If you say, “There’s a really important area to the east of Silicon Valley,” it’s not exciting, because it’s not tangible. But when you say, “The Mount Hamilton Wilderness,” their interest perks up.

Made to Stick

TNC was able to acquire more grants to protect the area after giving it a name. They made the idea really easy to grasp. It wasn’t some area of land ‘out there’. It was the Mount Hamilton Wilderness.

The same idea can be applied elsewhere. Another example of where a company has removed abstraction in its naming process is Apple. Let’s take a look at their lineup of computers.

On Naming Computers

Below is Apple’s entire computer portfolio. Two laptops, two desktops, and the stuff-anywhere-you-want Mac mini.

Apple’s lineup

Simple and clear. No model numbers to decipher. Each product fulfills its role and has a specific name, and other than the iMac, a name that happens to be relatively descriptive.

On the flip side of things, here is Acer’s lineup OF JUST THEIR LAPTOPS. Six laptops split into two categories; an Aspire series and a TravelMate series. I’m going to assume the TravelMate series is for traveling? Right? But, aren’t all laptops for traveling?

Acer’s lineup

This product line is impossible to figure out. Just look, half of them have “TimeLineX” in their name. Also, what’s with the ‘X’? I thought having an ‘X’ in your product’s name was reserved for sponsors of snowboarding competitions.

And below is HP’s laptop lineup – well, more their pre-lineup lineup. Making a decision here takes you to list of model numbers. What if I want a fast computer that I take to work and use everyday? Guess I have to choose between fast, portable, or everyday usage. Convoluted to say the least.

HP’s lineup

Remove The Abstraction

Make it easy for everyone to understand what exactly it is you are talking about. Give it a name or description that makes it a tangible idea or concept – something that gives a reference point to the things around it. Make it clear and simple. Oh, and don’t put an ‘X’ in the name.