The Power of a Catchy Name
How naming your UX research findings can make them stick
Developing an understanding of user needs and identifying concrete design recommendations requires a combination of rigorous research, careful analysis, and effective communication. With everything involved in setting up the best study, analyzing data, and report writing, it is easy to overlook one of the simplest ways to make findings stick: a captivating and memorable name. The right name can make your stakeholder more likely to pay attention to, remember, and ultimately act on your findings.
Why a good name matters
The idea that a good name can help a finding or theory catch on is not new. You can read this article (from 30 years ago) about how scientists (from 60+ years ago) started giving their theories approachable names to help garner more attention from the general public than their stuffier-sounding counterparts.
A great name can convey the essence of an idea, promoting comprehension and approachability, making a general audience more likely to accept and remember it. Granted, a great name does not make the underlying idea any better, but it doesn’t make it any worse, either.
Scientific literature is full of great names that helped concepts catch on.
The phrase “Big Bang” theory was originally coined by a scientist opposed to the idea, but it was so snappy that it stuck.
Darwin did not use the term “Evolution” in On the Origin of Species, but the word has become synonymous with his work. Relatedly, Herbert Spencer’s “Natural selection” has withstood the test of time.
“Black hole” replaced “gravitationally completely collapsed star.“
The list goes on, but the catchy-name phenomenon is not limited to older theories about the natural world. You don't have to look very far for a topical example from the social sciences.
The term “Growth Mindset” (the self-held idea that one’s abilities can be developed with hard work and determination) is a wildly popular framework for thinking about personal and professional growth. This idea comes directly from Carol Dweck's research. The careful reader might notice that Dweck’s earliest articles on the topic referred to “implicit theories about human attributes.” The later use of the term “mindset” (and its relatively more approachable name) has helped Dweck’s theories gain mass attention.
UX is full of well-named ideas and theories
Similarly, User Experience has its fair share of catchy names that facilitate an immediate understanding of a theory by conveying the essence of its ideas:
Don Norman (who also gets credit for the term User Experience) gave us plenty of well-named UX principles. From Affordances (cues that signal what an object does or ‘affords’ the user), to Mapping (the relationship between how inputs ‘map’ to system effect), and Feedback (how an interface provides information back to the user to show how their actions have impacted the system) the Design of Everyday Things is full of well-named concepts that helped it, and UX in general, catch on.
Hedonic Usability, which refers to the 'hedonic’ or pleasurable aspect of an interface, along with its counterpart Pragmatic Usability, has helped practitioners take a more holistic view of the user experience.
Cognitive Walkthrough, a usability inspection method where experts mentally simulate completing tasks with an interface to find usability issues (i.e., they “cognitively walk through” the system). Compare this to GOMS, a similar method whose name isn’t nearly as approachable.
Applying catchy naming to your findings
The catchy name effect isn’t just for those contributing to the theoretical foundation of our field — you can apply the catchy name effect in your practical work to make your research findings stick with stakeholders.
Use existing names to facilitate learning
Take advantage of all the theories with approachable names that already exist. You can help stakeholders understand how a specific finding relates to broader usability concepts and guidelines by sprinkling these into your reports. For example, if you find a usability issue caused by poor system feedback, you should specifically call that out in your report and include a footnote (or appendix) briefly explaining what feedback is.
Over time you will find that, through exposure to these foundational principles, your stakeholders will develop a working knowledge of usability theory.
Name your personas
Many/most groups already do this, and some may groan at it, but there’s good reason to give personas names. Sometimes teams will pick actual human names, but other groups will choose a more descriptive name (e.g., a fintech company might have the “incremental investor” persona, who buys stocks in small/fractional amounts at a time). By giving the persona a relevant name, you can make it stick in a stakeholder’s mind, and what is the purpose of a persona if not to keep the user in mind as we make design decisions?
Some are named better than others, and you should carefully consider the names you pick, but a name will humanize your persona artifacts and make them more consistently considered.
Name recurring findings/ findings with a long shelf life
You can broadly apply the idea of naming to any of your findings that have a long enough shelf-life. If there are findings about your users that are persistent (often this comes from discovery research about slow-changing preferences and behaviors, but could apply to longstanding usability issues) you can give them a name to facilitate quick recall and discussion.
I recommend testing out your names with a few teammates to make sure they resonate and convey the essence of the findings without leading to any confusion or misunderstanding.
Give your presentations a great title
One of the easiest ways to take advantage of the catchy name effect is to change how you write presentation titles. A great title slide can capture your audience’s attention, deliver the key message, and make them more eager to hear the rest of the report.
Communicating the key point of your results through a name like “Where’s my car?: Users struggle to locate automotive products” or “Love for the Hidden Menu: How exposing little-known features can increase user satisfaction“ sets the scene for what our audience can expect to hear better than “e-commerce card sort results” or “adoption and usage report findings.“
A name that facilitates attention and understanding is a tried-and-true way of gaining mass appeal for an idea. Use this to your advantage and increase the impact of your UX research by employing the tactics outlined above. Your stakeholders will be sure to pay attention to, remember, and act on your findings.
Until next month.