Word choices

27Mar08

If you want to communicate effectively, it’s generally a good idea to use the same words that your customers do. This rule applies whether you’re creating a website, writing a user’s guide, or designing navigational signage. I’ve seen this recommendation many times before, yet companies still get it wrong all the time.

Here’s my most recent experience with poorly-chosen words. While in the smaller terminal at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, I needed to catch a taxi. I looked for “Ground Transportation” and the sign was worded just like that. Good so far. But when it came time to choose the right ground transportation option, the sign for “Taxis” was nowhere to be found. One of the signs said “Limos”, so I figured that was the right one. But the extra cognitive effort adds time and hassle to the process, and probably contributes to bottlenecks during heavy traffic periods.

If I’m not mistaken, the word “limo” is used more frequently outside the US. In a major international terminal, I can understand the value of phrasing the signage that way. But MSP’s smaller terminal appears to serve mainly domestic airlines. Regardless, the better approach is a simple compromise. If your target audience is likely to use more than one term to describe something, then provide them with both sets of wording. Packaging designers have been doing this for years, with Spanish or French appearing below the English naming in many products sold in North America. In my case, “Taxis / Limos” would certainly do the trick.



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