Simplifying Legal Jargon

Matt Geraghty   March 29, 2010

A recent Ted talk by Alan Siegel tackles cumbersome documentation like Tax forms, credit agreements, and healthcare legislation.   Siegel makes the case that we deserve a more user-friendly simplified version to make legal paperwork more intelligible and even demonstrates with real-world examples he’s designed. Watch the recently released TED video above to see how he innovates by streamlining content.

Content Amplifications

Rachel Lovinger   December 11, 2009


Kick back with some groovy content combinations.  (Image by the talented Derek Yaniger)

The holidays are almost here, so it seems like a good time for a little game. A couple years ago, I added a page to our internal wiki called “UXification.” We explained* it like this:

UXification is what happens when real-world words are combined with UX or tech words to describe a user experience-oriented twist on the original. As the Internet and Web 2.0 continue to saturate popular culture, more and more wordbinations (word combinations) and technopuns (technology puns) will show up for us to lovate (love and hate).

This was followed by a list of portmanteau words, along with definitions. Here are some examples* you may recognize:

  • brochureware= brochure + software – Web pages created by taking an organization’s printed materials and translating them directly to the Web.
  • crowdsourcing= crowd + outsourcing – Saving money on content production by sourcing it out to the audience (originated in Jeff Howe’s The Rise of Crowdsourcing, Wired Magazine).
  • disemvoweling= disemboweling + vowel – The practice of removing all the vowels in a comment or forum message, rending it very difficult to read. This is a tactic often employed by forum moderators to censor unwanted posts, rather than outright deleting them. (see Disemvoweling on Wikipedia)
  • navitorial= navigation + editorial – “Editorial content on a Web site that clarifies and supports the site’s navigational structure.” (as defined by Gareth Brownwyn in Jargon Watch,
  • typosquatting= typographical error + cybersquatting – a variation on cybersquatting. Someone registers domains that are very similar to common or trademarked URLs, so that when people make a common typo they will end up on a page with just a list of ads or some other revenue-generating nonsense. (See Typosquatting on Wikipedia)

And here’s one that we completely made up:

  • pubmiliate = publish + humiliate – to embarrass someone by publicly reporting comments that were not originally intended for a wide audience (For example, see Robert Stribley’s recent post about the use of Twitter lists on Huffington Post)

So now it’s your turn. Share your favorite UXified word in the comments. And don’t forget to include a definition of the word!

*Special thanks to John Pettengill and Joy Andrews, coworkers who contributed to the UXification page on the Razorfish wiki.

Cowboy, Ninja, Bear

Rachel Lovinger   November 6, 2009


Rest in peace Rock, Paper, Scissors. (Images via swirlingthoughts, macfixer, and blockpartypress)

At some point in your life, you’ve probably played Rock, Paper, Scissors. It’s a child’s contest that uses simultaneously cast hand gestures to settle disputes. Perhaps you wondered, even while playing it, about the validity of this model.

In the game, Rock (a fist) beats Scissors (two extended fingers). Ok, that makes sense – you could use a hard, heavy rock to destroy a relatively delicate metal hinge. Scissors cuts Paper (flat hand), which also makes sense – it’s what scissors were designed to do – but not very dramatic. And lastly, Paper… covers Rock. How does this demonstrate dominance on the schoolyard?  “I smashed your scissors” is way more menacing than “I covered your rock. Now you can’t see it!

This may be a victory, but it’s kind of a hollow one. Which is why I was so excited when a friend taught me the updated version: Cowboy, Ninja, Bear. Win that contest and you’ve really accomplished something – a potentially life threatening battle between dangerous creatures! So, how is it played?

The two players stand back to back. Someone counts to three. On three, both players spin around and face each other, striking their chosen pose:

  • Cowboy = both hands mimicking pistols, pointed at your opponent
  • Ninja = both hands at about face level, hands flat and poised for a martial arts attack
  • Bear = hands up, fingers curled like claws, ready to rip your opponent to shreds

The winner is determined like this: Cowboy shoots Bear, Ninja sneak attacks Cowboy, Bear mauls Ninja. The underlying structure of the game is the same, but the new nomenclature makes the logic more apparent and raises the stakes. Plus, it’s so fun, you might forget what your dispute was about in the first place.

I Sing the Toothbrush Electric

Jared Kelleher   April 13, 2009
niemann-toothbrush1It’s not electric, but it’ll do. (image via the brilliant Christoph Niemann)

“But we don’t call it that,” he said.

“You don’t call it an electric toothbrush?”

“No,” he said. “It’s a power toothbrush and we can’t say electric toothbrush on the site.”

I felt old; we grew up calling them electric toothbrushes.

What to do. According to the keyword research of the day, it turned out that just as many folks searched for powered toothbrushes using the word electric, as did not.

Plus, anyone willing to shell out nearly $200 bucks for a toothbrush had to be a little older; from the days when they were called electric toothbrushes.

So while we couldn’t mention “electric toothbrush” in the copy, nobody had provided such explicit direction for not using the word in the secret little metadata behind every well optimized site.

We added electric toothbrush to the mix in every acceptable and relevant page title, content description and keyword. And slowly, we began to quietly creep to the top of the electric toothbrush search results page.

I took a peek to see where they’re at these days with their electric efforts.

I Googled “electric toothbrush” and they were nowhere to be found. I went to their site and saw that while they do use the word once, in customer-facing copy, they no longer use the word in their keywords or content descriptions.

Then something caught my eye—their competitor’s site—right there in the two spot.

I took a look at their keywords and content descriptions, and there, amidst dozens of the expected keywords, was that one little word I remember noodling with for hours—electric.

While it no longer seems to be part of my former client’s search repertoire, it’s good to see somebody’s still getting some mileage out of electric toothbrushes.

Don’t Shoot the Messager

Rachel Lovinger   March 9, 2009
thomas_keeleyWhen you absolutely, positively must shoot the messager, reach for one of these. (via)

I recently went to Sundance, where I spent a good number of hours on waitlist lines, trying to get tickets to screenings. If you happen to be standing next to friendly people, you can have some pretty interesting conversations while passing the time together. On one occasion, I found myself waiting next to TV actor David Blue and several of his friends (yep, sometimes even famous people have to wait on lines). Their group was lively, funny, and friendly, even though we had all gotten there at 7:30am.

I popped in and out of conversations with them, on a variety of topics, and as we neared the end of our wait David said to me, “Since you’ve been so helpful, maybe you can help us figure out something else.” Then he said, “You know how you get a message? But the person who brings it to you is a messenger? Where did the N come from?”

Read the rest of this entry »

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