20 January 2011

What's In A Name? (part 2)

A few more thoughts on The Naming Of Things.

If it's at all up to you, don't let the engineers name the technology (and I say this as a guy with more than one engineering degree). An engineer is likely to end up giving the system an engineering-based name which probably won't make much sense from a customer's perspective.

For example, those little communication devices we all carry around and use to send text messages (and occasionally to connect with someone voice-to-voice). We call them "cell phones" because they rely on a communication architecture based on "cells" that link up and provide continuous coverage over a geographic area and which zzzzzzzzzz. Oh, sorry, I fell asleep for a minute.

The point is, an engineer obviously named the cell phone. Sadly, we all fell for it.

The Brits do it better. They call these things "mobile phones," because you can move around with them. See, they're mobile. Get it? And really, how many users care what sort of communications architecture their mobile runs on? It honestly doesn't matter.

Here are a few more examples of unnecessarily techy names: Microwave oven, X-ray, MP3 Player, Cable Television, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), convection oven... you get the picture.

Who cares that the Fast Cooker uses the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to heat up my Hot Pocket(tm), or that the Inside Viewer uses the X-ray portion of the spectrum to watch that same Hot Pocket work its way through my GI tract?

And seriously, "MP3 player"? That stands for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, 'cause it's really important we give the Motion Picture Experts Group credit for helping develop the "lossy compression standard" that enables large music and video files to be zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Sorry, I fell asleep again. I think I need to turn up the volume on my iPod.

2 comments:

RhetTbull said...

Yes, it is very important that our citizens have absolutely no idea how their tech actually works. The dumber the better. Obtuse, obfuscated product names are always preferable to descriptive names.

The Dan Ward said...

Rhet- you crack me up.

The thing is, both "cell phone" and "mobile phone" are descriptive names. One refers back to the underlying architecture and thus is descriptive from a technical / designer's POV. The other is descriptive from the user's POV.

My contention is that it's important to put yourself in the user's shoes, to see through their eyes. I just think it makes sense to give things names that relate to the users experience rather than the engineer's effort.

And I'm not sure calling it a cell-phone actually teaches anyone anything about the architecture (any more than calling it a Microwave helps people understand the electromagnetic spectrum).