The tech industry loves its jargon and acronyms, but do they help or just sow confusion? Gina and Chris discuss how acronyms can obfuscate understanding and deeper meaning for the speaker and audience alike. They share how simplifying your presentations and giving broad strokes rather than nitty-gritty details can show greater knowledge than any acronym you throw out there. After all — clarity is kindness!
Gina Trapani: [laughing] I don’t know how to end this! Trying to land this plane here folks.
[POSTLIGHT INTRO MUSIC]
Gina: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Postlight Podcast. I’m Gina Trapani, CEO Postlight. As always, I’m joined by my partner in this business and president of Postlight, Chris LoSacco. Hey Chris.
Chris LoSacco: Hello Gina.
Gina: We’re sitting in the podcast studio at our office. We often record this remote, but it’s kind of fun.
Chris: Fun fact about our podcast studio, it has an “on air” sign, which is really cool, but there’s no on—off switch.
Gina: That’s right. So we’re just always on air.
Chris: We’re always on air.
Gina: Yeah. We actually had someone say, like, “I checked the on-air sign and it was on, so I did not disturb you.”
Chris: Which is actually brilliant.
Gina: We—we work out of the pod—we never leave the podcast studio and we’re..
Chris: And we never get disturbed.
Gina: We—and we never—we never get disturbed and we’re never off air. So there you go.
Chris: That’s amazing.
Gina: It is a fun fact. I’m excited about this topic that we have today. So we have—you know, little inside baseball. We’ve got this Trello board for the podcast because, you know, swim lanes, Kanban, that’s what you do, drop ideas on there. And when I said to Chris, what are we gonna talk about today? He was like, “oh!” He—he was like, you knew how to..
Chris: I know the one!
Gina: … right at the top of your—of—of the pile for you. So what, what are we talking about today? What is this topic?
Chris: The importance of being plain spoken.
Gina: Plain spoken.
Chris: [sighs] I just—I relaxed even saying it out loud.
Gina: I know it’s so important. We work in an industry..
Chris: Oh my God.
Gina: ….where people use words and buzz phrases and acronyms and just a bunch of like new fangled concepts that are the, you know, the same old, same old, just dressed up in new. It’s like a prerequisite for being in technology.
Chris: I know.
Gina: Like I—it’s—it’s—It’s a lot.
Chris: It’s a lot. And it’s never ending. And it gets to the point where sometimes you find yourself in a conversation and you’re like, “what is even happening right now?”
Gina: “What is happening?”
Chris: “What are we talking about?”
Gina: “What are you saying, for real?”
Chris: “What are you saying?” Yeah.
Gina: I used to feel bad, like I’m behind and like I should know.
Gina: Like I would feel like a little bit dumb, like, “oh, I’m not keeping up with the friends.”
Chris: Oh, totally.
Gina: And then I turned a corner. There was like a moment in my career and I turned a corner and I was like, if I don’t know what someone’s talking about, then they’re making assumptions about who their audience is.
Gina: I’ve been in this industry long enough that if I don’t know what it is, there’s likely someone else in the room, you know, if it’s a big room that also doesn’t know.
Gina: And so now I just, I’m like, I don’t feel bad. I just ask.
Gina: I’m like, “what does that mean?”
Gina: “What—can—can I just stop you there? What is that acronym?” And it’s funny because I used to feel like that was like gonna make me seem dumb or weak. It actually , it’s kind of a little bit of a power move…
Chris: A hundred percent.
Gina: …cause you’re following somebody out on—on using a buzz phrase or a phrase that you know maybe doesn’t have meaning or wasn’t clear to others.
Chris: So 80% of the time, that’s a stat I just made up on the spot, these acronyms don’t mean anything.
Gina: They don’t actually.
Chris: Right? Or they’re so far removed from an actual meaning and the person who is using it is only comfortable with the abstraction and they’re not actually thinking about what they’re really trying to say.
Gina: And everybody has assigned meaning to it?
Gina: Like different meaning to it? So now you have an acronym with these sort of buzzy business technology words that everybody has a different perception of what they mean exactly.
Gina: And so the conversation, it goes nowhere.
Chris: Right! You, again, you find yourself in these rooms where you’re like, “well, what are we actually talking about here?” We’re so far removed. And I—I—I can vividly remember earlier in my career, like the meetings where I’d be frantically Googling things.
Chris: Like, what? What’s going on? What is that again? You know?
Gina: What is that again? Yes.
Chris: And it’s a complete waste, and it doesn’t feel good. Like it doesn’t feel good as the person in the room, and I think it also doesn’t feel good to the room as a whole, you know? Because clarity is kindness and when you’re not being clear, it is a tax on every thought and every back and forth that’s happening in the room.
Gina: Yes. And you know, and I really feel like our job as people who help our clients with technology is to bring more clarity and more simplicity. And not like, you know…
Gina: …the dazzle executives with buzz phrases. Look, sometimes executives have hooked onto something and been like, this is my problem. Like somebody perfectly expressed it in this, you know, weird phrase or whatever. But we start by being like, “tell us what that means to you.” Like in plain sentences. We really try to go to like, how do we say this as simply as possible.
Gina: Like in plain English.
Chris: Simple, direct, clear. No abstraction. Whenever possible.
Chris: And with the—with the acronyms, if you can’t replace the acronym with a more descriptive thing that you’re trying to say, then there’s probably an issue that you need to resolve something that is not yet identified.
Chris: You know? Or, or just spell out the acronym.
Gina: Right, right.
Chris: Don’t say AWS, say…
Gina: Amazon Web Services.
Chris: ..Amazon Web Services, you know?
Chris: And it really does obscure what the actual thought that is trying to be communicated is.
Gina: Yeah. Asking what does that acronym mean or, I haven’t heard that phrase before, like, could you tell me what that means is actually—it starts to unpack things. Like when someone has to explain what they’re saying, like you get at what the issue is. So it’s actually a good technique, not only to, you know, add another catch catchphrase to your, you know, personal dictionary. It’s like, what is this person really saying? What does this represent to them? What does this acronym represent to them? Or this newfangled phrase mean to them?
Chris: Right? Yep. I mean, sometimes in the—in the best case scenario, it can help clarify their own thinking.
Chris: Because they’re using the acronym in place of something that wasn’t totally clear before. But as you try to pull on the thread, you get to something that is more meaningful and more true, more direct. Again, especially in a group setting, it just helps everybody.
Gina: Yep. I think another part of being plain spoken to is, staying a bit high level? You know, I think that particularly the technology industry and with engineers and with people who are doing very technical work, there’s a tendency to wanna include, you know, all the details.
Gina: And like, talk about that, you know, new service or new approach or new pattern you know, or new bit of programming language or, or database technology or whatever it is. And to like speak about it in depth to justify why it’s so much better and how it’s so important. And you have to know your audience, right?
Gina: If you’re talking to, you know, high level folks who want the high level story, you know, adjust that story. I think that there’s a little bit, particularly among the more technical groups, like a, a pushback event. Like, don’t oversimplify or reduce, you know, like—like–
Gina: …give all the facts. But I think there’s a lot of use in saying like, at the high level, this is what this means. Like, boil it down. So this is why we’re, we’re doing this thing. You know, I’ve seen technical architecture diagrams, which are like incredibly, incredibly detailed and huge with tons of different nodes, and—and I think that that’s appropriate for a technical audience. We wrote a piece on the postlight.com our website about layer cakes. About taking a platform and breaking it down to just the general layers. And I had—I had tweeted about it and someone responded to me, a technical leader responded to me and said, oh, you mean “marchitecture”?
Gina: Marchitecture, right. So like marketing speak for architecture.
Chris: That’s incredible.
Gina: And you know that that was a little bit of a pejorative.
Chris: That’s a dig. Yeah.
Gina: It’s like, okay. You know? Yes. Is simplifying something, being a bit reductive? Yes. But sometimes it’s very useful to be a bit reductive, to use just plain, regular English words.
Gina: That anybody can understand at a low grade level, so that it’s clear to everybody in the room, regardless of what perspective they’re coming from, you know, what’s going on and why we’re doing this.
Chris: Again, it’s know your audience. If you are talking to a wide group of stakeholders, or you are a technical person and you’re speaking to a non-technical room, making sure that you’ve got something that’s accessible by everyone is so important. It’s critical.
Chris: Having those diagrams or those slides or the presentations that are in an excruciating level of detail, it just comes off like you are—first of all, you’re gonna lose the room.
Chris: And it comes off like you are, I don’t know, showing off or…
Chris: You know…
Gina: Proof of work.
Chris: Right. This proof of work that is just not—it’s not necessary almost all of the time. And there’s a very clear way to say, I’m going to show you something at a higher level that is no less true than the very, very detailed thing. But I’ve got the backup for it, if you want to go, you wanna go..
Gina: Level deeper.
Chris: A level deeper.
Gina: Four levels deeper.
Chris: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. And the truth is like having that higher level summary view is probably more useful to most of your technical audience as well, you know?
Chris: Unless you’ve got a specific reason to go diving into the leads.
Gina: Mm-hmm. Yep.
Chris: I mean, the same thing is true for documentation that’s meant to be read in pros, right? You want the high level view to be available and digestible by the widest set of people, and then more detailed documentation or sort of subpages that can be followed up on when necessary, but only when necessary.
Chris: And if you overwhelm people with all the stuff all at once, it is like a barrier to getting people to internalize what you’re trying to communicate.
Gina: Right. Right. Share as needed.
Chris: Share as needed. Yeah. That’s right.
Gina: Have you ever had a technical team or a person weaponize information?
Chris: Oh yeah.
Gina: About the stack or about the technology? For like reasons why it can or can’t do the thing. Tell me, let me tell you all about the bahbahbah, and then you just get just an avalanche of technical information about why a thing is the way it is and you’re like, “But what are you saying?”
Chris: “What are you saying?” Right. It’s very often in response to like a very reasonable business request.
Gina: Right. Yes.
Chris: Like, you know, “the homepage takes 13 seconds to load. What’s going on there?”
Chris: It’s like, well, you know, the caching subsystem and the microservice and the blah blah, blah. You didn’t think about authentication. And it’s like, hold on a second. This is backwards. Like you are arming yourself with this deep, you know, technical misdirect.
Chris: When—when what really should be happening is, oh, let me internalize your business problem, and then let’s think about at a very, you know, again, sort of basic fundamental level. And we’re not saying there are not technical challenges. Of course..
Gina: There are, of course. Always.
Chris: …are tricky problems with technical challenges.
Gina: Limitations. Yeah.
Chris: Right. But you have to be able to have a—a direct conversation about them in a way that is unified around solving the problem, right? As opposed to, you know, let me put on my protective coat of all of these impenetrable terms.
Gina: Very important technology terms, right? That are holding us, that we’ve committed to and that are the reason why..
Gina: Here are all the reasons.
Chris: And there’s always a new one. You know, there’s always the next set of things. It’s like, well, you know, here’s the reason why we can’t do blah, blah, blah, and it’s like, that’s not—that is the wrong framing.
Gina: Yep. How do you promote a culture of being plain spoken? How do you encourage colleagues, team members? I mean with clients. You know, I think—I think there are ways that there’s like, Hey, can you spell out that acronym? Or everybody might not know what that means. Like this is common feedback we give to like decks.
Chris: Oh yeah.
Gina: Hey, and that acronym, spell that out and maybe put it in parentheses, the acronym, cuz then not everybody you know, might know what that means or, so what I’m, what I hear you saying is this, is that right? Maybe we could rephrase, that kind of thing.
Chris: Yeah, those kinds of prompts are great. I mean, I would also say this is something you can interview for like as you’re thinking about growing your team. if you get the word salad in the interview, where it’s like, you know, I—I have worked on the blah, blah, blah, and it’s just like all the acronyms and the buzzwords fall out of their mouth, but it’s not actually in the context of something real.
Gina: Right. And you find yourself wondering what does that mean exactly.
Gina: Like, what actually were you responsible for?
Gina: Like, what result was there?
Chris: Yeah. That’s a huge red flag.
Gina: That’s a red flag. Yeah.
Chris: And you should—you should call that out in your communication competency as you’re thinking about bringing on a new hire. Yeah, I think in a presentation review, asking an engineer, especially to just come one level up and see what kind of response you get. And that can be a very helpful way to say, okay, like what you’re saying, you know, there’s some technical truth to it, but how do—how do you simplify? How do you go one rung up the stack.
Gina: Yep, yep. Definitely. Why do you think the technology industry in particular loves like buzz phrases and new words for new technologies and, and acronyms even? I mean, and not just technology industry. I think also corporate culture likes, likes acronyms, right? Because it’s like “it has an acronym and therefore it is real.”
Chris: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s right. Yeah. I think acronyms lend. Not gravity, but like seriousness.
Gina: It’s official.
Chris: It’s official.
Gina: It’s official. We’re using these letters. Yeah.
Chris: That’s the thing.
Gina: Yep. Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I think in the industry as a whole, I think, you know, coming up with names for, you know, everything old is new again, but coming up with new names for it. Even things like, you know, Web3 or Web2, it’s a way to market and package up an idea and make it feel new and make people, you know, Google it and look it up and be like, “Oh yes, like Web3, that’s, yeah—all—that’s all the crypto things, right?” Like, you know, it is a way to market an idea. So you make it real. It has a name, but I also just think it’s a way you can create some obscurity through ambiguity, right? Like, it’s sort of ambiguous what this phrase and name means. And I think particularly when a, you know, a catch phrase or, you know, buzzword sort of catches fire. The more people that use it, the more they kind of assign their own meaning to it. If the meaning is not immediately clear.
Gina: And it’s a way to just obscure away what the real issue is because maybe it’s not clear to that person.
Chris: That’s the thing I think you can kind of skate by.
Chris: By using these words or concepts that are one or two steps away from the truth of the matter.
Chris: And so if you don’t really get the truth of the matter, that’s okay.
Chris: Because you can—you could sort of hint at it and get close enough to it, right. That you can walk your way through the tricky rooms or the tricky conversations. And..
Gina: Because it makes you seem smart and dialed in.
Gina: Maybe ahead of everybody else in the room, cuz you like know this idea.
Gina: That maybe others didn’t know. Like it’s a little bit of a power movie.
Chris: It’s a little bit of a power move.
Gina: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: But it..
Gina: It’s also one you could call should call BS on in your head.
Gina: Should have—the BS meter should go off in your head. “What is—what does that mean exactly?”
Gina: “What do you mean by that?”
Chris: Right. And it side steps the actual, the actual understanding.
Gina: Right, right.
Chris: Like the actual heart of the matter. Because you need to not rely on, you know, these packaged up things that may or may not, you know, be at the heart of what you’re trying to solve.
Chris: You know, I think a lot of the clients that we talk to, they have had bad experiences with people who come in and say…
Gina: Snow them with bad phrases. Mm-hmm.
Chris: Yeah! “Oh, I know exactly what you’re dealing with, and we have the, you know, blotty blah framework that relies on X, Y, and Z. Those are all things that are well understood and we just need to. You know, agile, scrum, the blah, blah, blah, and you’ll be good.” And it’s like, okay, I—you sort of sounded like you got it, but also not, I don’t really know what you just said?
Gina: Right. I said some confidence there and a bunch of words I don’t really understand. Maybe you know, a lot better than me.
Gina: But also do you—what—what did that mean?
Chris: It just is is a—it’s a big consulting trope. Maybe it’s a big company thing in general. I don’t know. Yeah. But it, it doesn’t, it doesn’t do anybody any good.
Gina: Yeah. I mean, over time I’ve definitely come to think in my head like, “oh, this person is very smart and an expert. The more sort of simply they can lay out something.”
Gina: Versus the other way. Whereas younger my career, I’d be like, “oh, this person is like, you know, knows all the words and like is, you know, really smart and I’m googling furiously to keep up with what they’re saying.” And now I’m like, “oh, okay, that’s, that’s a show, that’s a performance. Let’s talk to, you know, the person who is. Here’s what’s going on. This is, this is the problem.”
Gina: I mean, clarity of the, you know, of what the problem is, is step one, and that’s, that’s the only way that you really get to a solution.
Chris: That’s right. It’s not only the most accessible thing, but it is the only way to really truly get at the real solution.
Chris: And we’re talking a lot about engineering. I think this also applies in design. I think that you have designers who will spin a big story about…
Gina: design thinking and processes.
Gina: Approaches and yep.
Chris: “Let me run this sprint with these activities. And here’s ex–” and look, don’t get me wrong, we have a view on how you should do, you know, design sprint style work. But it’s always presented in a way that is very direct about what we’re doing and what you’re gonna get.
Gina: What you’re gonna get.
Chris: And it always defaults to the work. And there are other groups who will not attack it that way. It’ll be very, you know, hand wey and like, “well, you know, here’s, we might do a little bit of this and there’s this kind of user journey, blah, blah, blah.” And it’s very abstract to the point where you’re like, I don’t understand—if you’re ever saying to yourself, I don’t really understand what’s, what’s going on.
Gina: Yeah, that’s when..
Chris: That’s when you gotta stop. Right?
Gina: It’s not you.
Chris: It’s not you. It’s not you.
Gina: That’s it.
Chris: It’s totally within your rights. And I think, you know, most people just don’t do this for whatever reason. They don’t wanna look stupid or whatever, but it’s totally within your right to say, “hold on, I’m not following you.”
Gina: “I’m not following.”
Chris: “Can you break that down?”
Gina: “Break that down. What does that mean exactly?”
Chris: “What does that mean exactly?”
Gina: ‘What does that really mean? But like practically, right? What does that mean?”
Gina: Yes. Definitely.
Chris: More people should be asking that question in more rooms. Or getting the documents ahead of time, that—that describe what’s underneath it all.
Gina: Yeah. Yeah. And—and this is particularly true when you’re like proposing a solution in our business, we write up proposals and we put them in front of prospects. And this is, I think where particularly in our proposals like this back and forth. So what is the client actually gonna get? What are we gonna do for them? What does this mean? We’re gonna, you know, build them a new platform that’s gonna bring them to the future. What—what does that mean?
Gina: Really though.
Gina: Like, let’s you know, let’s say it. But I think, you know, in every work situation you have to sell ideas, you have to pitch solutions, you have to, you know, get side off on a thing. And the simpler and more plainspoken you can be, the more results oriented. This is the result that you’re gonna get.
Gina: This is the problem that we have, this is the result we’re gonna get. I think, I just think the better.
Gina: I think being plainspoken is just a, such an important value, not only in technology industry, but I think that we have a particularly acute case of, of BS in our—in our cohort. I’ll call us all out for you.
Chris: I mean, I also think a tangent of what we’re talking about is that the more specific you can be while still being plain spoken and direct is better. Like content management system. Content management system. We’ve talked a lot about that on the show before. It can mean anything. You can have a CMS that is behind a publisher versus behind a video delivery service, versus managing a family tree versus, you know, keeping track of your inventory. I mean, it, it means…
Gina: Content. Yeah.
Chris: And so when you’re talking about what you product team is thinking about, “yes, there’s probably gonna be a CMS in your architecture. Can you be more specific about what it is?”
Chris: And if so, do that, you know?
Chris: And do it in a way that is understood by many. Same thing with like DAM, digital asset manager.
Chris: Like, Okay.
Gina: What is a digital asset manager. Yeah. Yeah, right.
Gina: And break it down. Is that where the videos live?
Gina: That’s where the photos live, right?
Gina: That’s where the sound, that’s where all the podcast episode, you know sound files live?
Chris: Yeah. “Oh, you’re talking about a document archive? Like that’s a slightly different thing. Let’s call it that.” You know?
Gina: Yeah. Yep.
Chris: Yeah, just demystifying this stuff. It—it—it seems like a shortcut, but in almost all cases it’s not a great shortcut. There are like very few examples where there could be a common understanding around things where it’s like, okay, it’s helpful for us all to adopt this term or this acronym, because you know—we, even as I’m saying this though, I’m not convincing myself because almost all the time you should just say what the thing stands for unless there’s like a really compelling reason to go with this abstract, maybe API is like a—but even then I will sometimes define, you know, this is a programmatic interface versus saying API.
Gina: Yeah. I mean, as you say that, I mean, I say API. I mean we seek to be plain spoken always on the show and all the time. Although, you know, there are times when we probably haven’t and we’ve used acronyms and catch phrases and you should email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris: Call us out.
Gina: Call us out.
Chris: We welcome that.
Gina: We’re not walking the talk. It all has so much to do with like the world that you live in. Like as a former engineer API is like very obvious to me what that is and why you’d have one. And you know, and I would use that acronym in a lot of spaces just because it’s very clear to me in my head.
Gina: And you know, that’s not always true, right? You have to get outside your own head.
Gina: I think this is, you know, true for business leaders you use buzz words and, and you know, acronyms that you say all day because it’s part of your world. When you talk to people outside of your world and they’re like, “what? What does that mean?”
Chris: I remember the first time I saw COB in an email..
Gina: Oh, COB!
Chris: and I, I was like, what does this mean? “I need this by COB?”
Gina: By cob?
Gina: Like corn on the?
Chris: Right? Yeah. And it, it stands for close of business business. And that was not at all obvious to me.
Chris: I mean, whatever, you Google it, you figure it out, but it’s like this little guessing game where
Gina: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, EOD, you know, “end of day” like out of the office. Oh. Oh. Like I’m just thinking about there’s, yeah.
Chris: There’s so many.
Gina: There’s—there’s many, there’s, there’s a lot of them. Have you ever had someone send you in a subject line only email where they say the thing they wanna say and then say EOM?
Chris: EOM? Yeah.
Gina: “End of message.” Like, oh, I appreciate that.
Chris: That one I kinda like.
Gina: Yeah. The first few times I’d open it up and be like, there’s nothing in this message. What’s EOM?
Gina: And now, now I’m like, oh, cool. Nice.
Chris: See, that’s interesting
Gina: You could of used Slack. But, but yeah.
Chris: well, you sent an email, but, okay.
Gina: Right. Yeah, exactly.
Chris: Yeah. I mean there’s, there’s so many that are coming into my head, like CX.
Gina: Cx, one of your favorites.
Chris: One of my favorites. Customer experience. Could mean anything to anyone. And if there’s a request, like I need a CX lead with app dev experience, and it’s like you could be describing 47 different people, like what is your actual problem? And then let’s talk about that need you know?
Gina: When I hear CX, I remember, oh, right. That means customer experience. When I hear customer experience, I think of going to like the Anthropologie at Rockefeller Center and a candle or something like, I like that got literally thinking about walking into a store and purchasing—cause, customer experience.
Chris: But you’re a hundred percent right, right? That it doesn’t—that could be a valid definition of customer experience.
Gina: I mean, it is a customer experience. Or maybe I’m just old and I, and I just remember UX. Like UX, I’m like, “oh, right, yes. User experience.” That’s just because I grew up in, you know, The—the olden web times.
Gina: We talk about UX.
Chris: Well, but I think that, again, even with UX, I think there’s a context that’s missing from that. And whatever you are communicating will be so much stronger if you include that context when you are trying to talk about it.
Chris: Versus just saying the thing.
Gina: I still don’t know the difference between UX and UI. I mean, I, I know what those words. I know that UX stands for user experience and UI stands for user interface, but I will just confess to you and to this entire audience that I still am not entirely sure what the difference is between those two things. And I think people say UX/UI, and I, and I’m saying that because I, again, like I think we come up with these terms, and I think that our design team would probably be absolutely shocked and disappointed to hear me say that, but, but it’s true. I just, I don’t know exactly. There’s a nuance between those two things. I’m not exactly sure what what, but this is the point.
Chris: This is the point. This is the point. The abstractions are lossy because…
Gina: and the abstractions are lossy.
Chris: I could say to you in, my interpretation, UI is someone who is more visual focused, who’s gonna be more focused on how it looks.
Gina: Interface. User interface.
Chris: Well and specifically like the visual design, right?
Chris: The colors, the type, the layout.
Chris: And a UX person is gonna be more concerned with the interactions.
Gina: The interactions.
Chris: And how, how Screen to screen—but this is my interpretation. Right?
Chris: And I think if you asked several different designers, you would probably get something…
Gina: slightly nuanced.
Chris: Exactly. Like a, a similar answer, but a slightly, you know, nuanced answer. Right? Same kind of thing with design system. Like I love that design systems are really taking hold and more and more companies are thinking in terms of, you know, not just what is the interface I have to build right in front of me, but how do I think about a common design language that my company, my platform, my suite of applications, can use so that they all feel like they are part of the same family? That is tremendous. For companies who have adopted design systems, it’s been a huge boon to consistency around what users see as they interact with, you know that company’s platforms.
Chris: But it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to each company, especially where each company is in its..
Chris: …trajectory of design thinking or of its approach to design. And so, If someone comes to us and says, I want a design system, our first question is like, “well, what do you have today and where are you today and how can we help you think about what your next step is?” Because that next step might look very different depending on who you’re talking to and what they mean by design system.
Gina: Design system, right.
Chris: It just comes back to again, like say what you mean and that you’re gonna get a thousand times farther, a thousand times quicker.
Chris: Than if you’re trying to use the term du jour.
Gina: Right. Right. We’ve built a lot of design systems for, for our clients, and we have a whole sort of idea of what that might look like. And if someone, one of our client says, I want a design system, we could just assume that it’s a thing that’s in our head, is a thing that’s in their head, and that is a recipe for disaster.
Gina: For sure.
Chris: I mean, A design system could mean a brand.
Chris: A design system could mean a component library. A design system could mean a set of widgets, you know, to use in a dashboard or in an article or, I mean, there’s like a thousand definitions that we could list.
Gina: Yeah. There’s off the shelf design systems that maybe they’re trying to shoot.
Chris: Right. Maybe they want material design, maybe they want carbon, maybe they want, you know.
Gina: Right, right. There’s a ton of ambiguity there. That’s right. So you have to dig in some more.
Chris: You have to dig in some more. And it applies to all of these things. Right. The term of industry.
Gina: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Chris: the buzzwords, the acronyms. They should all be, you know, little arm bells that go off in your head that it’s like, “well, wait a second.”
Gina: “Let’s interrogate this.”
Chris: “Let’s interrogate this.”
Gina: “What do you mean when you say?”
Chris: Right. And as you’re preparing, if you catch yourself doing it, then try to clarify your thinking. Right? It’s the same thing, like if you write, you know, three paragraphs on a slide and you’re like, hold on, I haven’t done the work here to really boil this down to like the essence of what I’m trying to communicate.
Gina: That’s right. Fewer words means you’ve actually done more thinking. Right. And more work.
Chris: If I had more time, I would’ve sent a shorter letter than that.
Gina: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I feel much better. I feel like, I feel like now that we’ve talked about this and put this into the world, our whole world’s gonna become a little bit more plain spoken. Do you think?
Chris: Let’s hope so.
Gina: Is it, is that, is it optimistic?
Chris: I, I mean it’s optimistic, but, you know, let’s‚—let’s go with it.
Gina: I just want everyone here listening to feel like totally empowered and good about saying, what do you mean by X? Or when you say Y, say more about that.
Chris: Say more about that.
Gina: Well, I’ve never heard that phrase, like, could you tell me what that means?
Gina: Because you’ll learn so much about the other person’s perceptions and you could just throw out the acronym of the buzz phrase. Your brain can throw that out. You don’t have to remember it. It just leads to a more productive conversation.
Chris: That’s what you—that’s what you’re leaving people with?
Gina: That’s what that in and of itself is, is a buzz phrase, apparently.
Chris: Oh God.
Gina: Apparently it’s a thing.
Chris: I want them on a t-shirt. Marchitecture. Do you think someone has it on their resume? No. Cuz it’s, it’s pejorative.
Gina: It’s a pejorative, right. Well, I mean, So I’m gonna make a very broad statement. I think that technical folks often look down on marketing because marketing is very simplistic and kind of like rah and just, you know, explaining to somebody like, please come buy my thing. Right? But there’s something about marketing, which is that it forces you to, in as few and most simple words as possible , say something.
Gina: Explain, you know, typically a value proposition of something to sell, something to explain something. Right. So it’s, it’s funny, like when it was like [sigh] marchitecture, like it was so interesting to me is like, no, this is a good thing.
Chris: There’s actually a lot of value here. The thing about “marchitecture,” there is value in the abstraction. But it has to be connected to. What’s really going on?
Chris: You know what I mean? And if it’s disconnected and you’re just using the abstraction. Right. I feel like I’m not even being clear describing this, but like you, you know, you need to be able to use the right altitude, but have it be true at each altitude.
Gina: True at each altitude. That’s right. Right. If you go level deeper, Here’s them a little bit more detail. You’re zooming in and outta the map.
Chris: You’re zooming in and outta the map.
Gina: There’s the country, there are the states. Oh, there’s the cities. Oh, there’s all the little towns.
Chris: That’s right.
Gina: Right, right. But there’s definitely value in that zoomed out view.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Gina: I love having conversations about things that are complicated and hard and in, you know, buzz phrases and acronyms and unclear. We really like cutting through ambiguity and getting into clarity, and a lot of this is just, what do you mean by that? And tell me more about that. We love having those conversations. So if you’re dealing with a complicated problem, if you’re getting snowed by buzz phrases and acronyms that are meaningless to you, number one, solidarity. Number two, you should send us an email email@example.com. We would love to chat with you about it and we’d love to hear from you. And also send us your worst, send us your worst acronyms and worst buzz phrases and catch phrases and most annoying technology especially.
Chris: Oh, that’d be so good.
Gina: That concept names. And we will and maybe we will share them in a future episode. That—that’d be kind of fun.
Chris: Or at the very least, we’ll laugh about them when we get the email.
Gina: Exactly. Exactly. We read everyone. firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening to everybody.
Chris: Thanks all.
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