I am lead developer and in regular debate with marketing about use of technical terms.

Currently users can search on string, date, and decimal. Users wanted to sum integer values in string so we said we need to add a datatype of integer. Currently the data loads come with integer data types - we just treated them as string. This also made for bad sorts - we should have supported integer all along.

All done and marketing does not want to use the term integer because users will not know what it means. We said what do you want us to call it and they said number. We said but they already have decimal and decimal is a number so how would they know the difference? I guess we could just call both (decimal and integer) number but we have some users that know the difference. Users will ask why they can put a . (decimal) in some numbers but not others.

Marketing also told us that users did not understand some of the advanced search options such (A and B) and not (C or D). We put an audit on search and only about 20% of the users were doing advanced searches but they are doing 80% of the searches. From the search pattern it is clear they are not flailing away and we are not getting support calls from this 20%.

Of the other 80% about 60% know what they want and just stay out of the complex stuff.

Yes we have the 20% that don't get it. But they are not going to get clarity by calling both integer and decimal a number?

I feel like we should focus on the most productive 20% not the least productive 20%.

How can I get across to marketing that our target group is smarter than marketing?

Technically engineering has marketing outranked. But I would like to get past this without pulling rank.

The formal definition of Integer is: The set of integers consists of zero (0), the natural numbers (1, 2, 3, ...) and their inverse (negatives, i.e. −1, −2, −3, ...).
That is all that is allowed in that search or edit field if regardless they understand it or not. If they enter an invalid character the box goes red and the entry is cancelled. If they hover to the right ? they get "x is invalid character for integer".

  • While I agree with you about your Pareto issue, Marketing is still right that the word "Integer" is not a regular term for everyday usage. When you stand in line, you don't say "My ticket is integer 5". You say "My ticket is number 5". You can use "Number" and just have it validate as an Integer. Sometimes it's difficult for Technical people to speak in Regular terms. You just need to have the empathy for it. Hope this helps.
    – Pdxd
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 20:41
  • What exactly are you trying to ask? Are you asking about which terms to use or how to communicate with Marketing team? Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 20:44
  • @Pdxd But we currently support decimal and call it decimal. If we call integer a number users would say decimal is a number - how is this different. If we called them both a number they would ask why some number accept a . (decimal) and other don't. There is behavior specific to integer.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 20:55
  • @ChairmanMeow How to get the marketing team to understand it is an advanced product and we have customers that get it. Why sacrifice the product for the bottom 20% at the cost of the top 20%?
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 20:55
  • I am amazed at the number of comments "use words the customer understands". It is an integer and behaves like an integer. It only accepts a valid integer on data entry and search. It is not a whole number or a natural number. To call it another inaccurate term adds no clarity. A decimal accepts a decimal point and an integer does not. An integer accepts - (negative) and a whole number does not. People commented on what to call an integer and did not even bother to look up integer. Getting users to read the documentation is a challenge.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 14:16

6 Answers 6


Put it to them this way: these days, the word "integer" gets taught at elementary level. Most people are going to know what it means.

I do see their point for more technical terms though - if people aren't going to understand, you have a problem. A possible solution is to add a clickable question mark icon next to technical terms that produces a definition tooltip. Alternatively, you could make a glossary page.

Looking at your comments - sacrificing the project for the sake of the bottom 20% of users is not necessary. Either just use the term - as I said, most people will know the meaning - or just add a subtle way of finding a definition. That way, you'll satisfy the people who need a definition but your top users won't feel patronised.

  • I wish it was that easy. Marketing wants use to fold integer into string or decimal. But integer does not behave like string or decimal. In know integer is taught in elementary school. My users are attorneys and they are just wired different.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 21:30
  • Sometimes you have to deal pretty firmly with marketing people. Tell them it just can't be done, say you've been doing this for X years and you know.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 21:33
  • I would rather not pull rank. I am mathematician with years of experience in search but new to litigation. My users before were engineers and if I said number they would say can you be more specific. I get I need to adapt but I don't want to sacrifice the high end that get it.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 21:46
  • Have you seen the show "are you smarter than a 5th grader"? What people learn in elementary doesn't matter if they don't retain it.
    – Pdxd
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 10:55

If the majority of the advanced search users are familiar with the difference between "Integer" and "Decimal". (And will I recommend you perform a quick user test to confirm this assumption.) Then consider putting in a small thing to explain terminology for the minority.


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It's minimal amount of work, allows you to keep your search filters specific for your power users and provide an explanation for users who are venturing into advanced search.

Using a term like "number" isn't recommended since a number can refer to a whole number or a decimal. Combining the two might restrict power users if they do in fact do the majority of searches within the system.

  • You are preaching to the choir. We we have done that. We have decimal and integer defined (and tooltip). If user enters an invalid character as soon as they do so the box goes red and does not accept the input with message invalid input. We (engineering) want to say integer does not accept ".". Marketing wants to say number does not accept ".". But if decimal and integer are number then they users have no way of knowing which numbers accept decimal.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 22:36
  • @Blam If stats aren't doing the trick with marketing. Then the only thing you have left is user testing. Invite some users to interact with your current interface and record the session. Then play back key highlights to the marketing team to assure them that the existing terminology is really an non-issue.
    – nightning
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 22:56

You should say to the marketing team, that if the customers are attorneys they have the obligation of knowing what an integer and a decimal are, because a cause can be lost on a court, just from not having the right words proffered.

In the Law and Rights area, the attention to the little linguistic details in the text is very important.

  • That is what is so strange to me. In law an attorney can accept that a word has a specific meaning.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 23:25

I think marketing have a point.

I'd invest in doing some initial face to face user research to actually understand what your customers want and what they understand.

  • "Users wanted to sum integer values in string"
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 12:09

What about labeling it "Whole Numbers"? Also I suggest an A/B-Test on this: One with "Integer", one with "Whole Numbers". Which performs better?

Btw about question mark icons: I ran a usability test for my bachelor thesis. Findings: No one considered reading the question mark info, even though the answer to successfully ending a task was completely described there. This may not apply to your audience since we're talking about expert users using the advanced search and it may be that they read the infos, but I really believe that question mark helps are overrated.

  • Re your usability test finding: its a basic UX rule: users don't like reading - they like to 'figure things out'.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 8:31
  • @PhillipW as I said, probably those users are ok with reading since they are expert users, but I wouldn't bet on it due to my experiences ;-) Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 8:32
  • The A/B test makes the most sense. You're not going to know until you assess with users. You need solid proof to show marketing.
    – Pdxd
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 10:52
  • But whole numbers is not correct. Whole numbers does not include negative. mathsisfun.com/whole-numbers.html I like the ? icon idea.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 12:17
  • @Blam thx for clarification :-) Now I would object: Do their users know the difference? I didn't and I have a feeling that most of people do neither. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 13:00

You have a particular set of skills, as does marketing. You're concerned about the twenty percent that gets it, and they're concerned about the other eighty percent. The two perspectives are complementary.

I wouldn't assume that your users know their data types as well as a programmer or mathematician would. Why not use "number" with a single input, validate the input behind-the-scenes and call the appropriate search function? Then, your users won't have to decide which input to use.

  • Then how do you explain to users that some "number" accept a decimal (.) and some don't. Weather they know the difference between integer or decimal or not - the two still have different behavior. Users don't like surprises - they want a reason. And to characterize it as engineering is only concerned with the top 20% is not accurate.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 17:40

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