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I'm a UX/UI designer leading the redesign of a web application that serves a primarily technical audience (DevOps professionals).

A primary goal of our redesign is to make the UI more accessible to less technical users (i.e. business execs), while maintaining our present user base.

A major usability problem of the current interface is that it is laden with inscrutable technical jargon. in the redesign, I have pushed for simpler, more everyday alternatives, but I'd like to better support my arguments with empirical data and develop a process for selecting among alternatives, instead of simply guessing.

Hence the question: in your experience, what are the best, tried-and-true methods of determining the "optimal" naming of things for a UI?

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3 Answers

In terms of navigation and hierarchy, Open Card Sorting should do the job.

Open Card Sorting: Participants are given cards showing site content with no pre-established groupings. They are asked to sort cards into groups that they feel are appropriate and then describe each group. Open card sorting is useful as input to information structures in new or existing sites and products.

It can also be used for the naming of specific fields (bottom-level items in the hierarchy), it just takes some more time and effort, and the way that you phrase the questions will interfere with the results ("How would you name the field that lists the recipients of the email" will probably yield "Recipients").

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Of course, make sure the participants are of the user group you are targeting with the more "open" terminology. –  wootcat Aug 16 '13 at 19:11
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If you want empirical method then you need test users, measurable criteria for "better names" and methodology of measuring. Here are some ideas:

Approach 1: If you have a lot of test user you can do use classic prototype-decide approach:

  1. Prepare 2 versions of UI (could be prototypes): One with current technical names, other with simpler alternative names. Both UIs should be different only in names used. Also have set of simple typical tasks that the users might want to do with the UI prepared.

  2. Tell one half of test users to accomplish prepared tasks with first UI (technical naming) and other half of users to do same tasks with second UI (simpler naming).

  3. Measure how much time they spent for each individual task (scenario) and how many errors (miss-clicks) they have done. For each pair of names (technical and simpler) choose one that took less time to find and caused less errors.

Approach 2: You can adapt previous general technique to suit your needs better. For example you can have the test users to play this "game": Describe an operation or entity for which you want to chose right name to the group of users. Present randomly chosen half of the test users with 5 choices of which one is correct technical name for described. The other half of test users gets same set of 5 choices but with technical name replaced by non technical name. Choose name which was chosen correctly and fast by test users.

Example: All users get this question: "You have finished working with the systems and you want to ensure that nobody else can use it under you name. What button do you press?"

Randomly chosen test users get this choices:

Save Terminate current session Invalidate session Delete profile Close window

Other test users get choices:

Save Sign out Invalidate session Delete profile Close window

Lets say that 40% of the users that received first set of choices has correctly chosen Terminate current session in 10 seconds and another 35% of users chose it in 30 seconds. 75% of test users that received second choices answered sign out on 10 seconds another 20% in 30 seconds. You conclude that name Sign out is clearly better then Terminate current session.

Approach 3: Just ask the test users to explain what do they think that some name means. If they answer correctly for the first time they understand the meaning of it. Chose the names understand by most test users.

Important: The ratio of technical and less technical users in the test group should correspond to they expected ration in production.

Important: Test users must understand that it is the names that are being tested not them (and their answers will be confidential).

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After name is choosen, it's helpful to evaluate it. Please pay attention to some evaluation methods which could be applied to the naming problem.

Reverse card sorting

In reverse card sorting, researchers show participants the first level of a taxonomy and give them a series of findability tasks, asking where they would look first to find each item.

Tree testing

TreeJack (tree-testing tool) presents participants with realistic tasks, asking them try to find items by clicking through multiple levels of an information hierarchy

More details could be found in Comparing User Research Methods for Information Architecture.

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