The importance of the glossary in a design team

The whole team speaks the same language

Any team, especially a design team, more than the simple sum of talents, it is important that it reflects in its essence, a unique identity. A particular form, as far as possible, unique and unrepeatable, which allows the team to face any and all design challenges.

Building an identity as a team is far from being an exact science. This identity depends not only on the people who compose it, who are in all cases essential to any team, but also a lot of its processes, tools, rituals, artefacts and context in which it is inserted. Whether in a digital design team, a communication design studio, an advertising agency, a marketing department, or any other context, the design team, depending on its mission, will have to find and build everything that its needs. own identity as a whole, more than the simple sum of several parts.

Common language and definitions

For better or for worse, design has always been a very plural and diverse area in work processes and tools. Perhaps as a defender, in essence, a vision adapted to each type of challenge, a design approach, tends to transform and reinvent itself according to the order to which it has to respond or the team that takes it forward.

The wealth of processes and tools that this brings, also has a dark side, the incoherent language. This volatility of uniformity makes it difficult, often to articulate a common vocabulary not only between the various design teams, but also and mainly in the relationship with the market in general.

The complexity and multiplicity of definitions and language, is quite evident in a number of areas of design, particularly in digital design and in the areas of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). Let’s do a simple exercise, if we ask two different teams to define what a “prototype” is about, will the two formulations be similar? Another example, even from the same team, is that within all designers, will you have to limit the identity boundaries between the concepts of “usability” and “accessibility”?

Definition of concepts

It is important in this discussion to discern two types of challenges. The first challenge is related to the conceptual and academic definition of terms. For example, the definition of “usability” and “accessibility” is widely studied and with the right bibliographic references, it will not be complicated to define each of the concepts.

However, there are other concepts, such as the “prototype” that, although it may also have a well-defined conceptual basis, often raises doubts. For example, some authors defend the existence of three types of prototypes (low, medium and high fidelity) and others only two (low and high fidelity). There are still some authors who make the distinction between static prototypes and interactive prototypes. Therefore, there will always be a gray area that, according to each designer and team, may raise some doubts and that it is important to standardize, at least within each design team.

Common glossary

There are no magical solutions to this challenge of standardizing language and terminology within the team. However, a good contribution to solving this problem may be the creation of a shared glossary, which defines in a very simple way, the main terms used in the design team’s day-to-day activities.

This glossary can be something as simple as a shared document, via Google Drive, Notion or another similar tool, or something more elaborate and specific to the team. Essentially the most important thing for this team glossary is that it contains, not only the list of the main terms used by the team, but also a very simple and synthetic definition, easy to understand, but also easy to explain to designers and beyond.

The development of this team glossary can and should evolve over time, preferably with regular discussion within the team of the meaning of each concept. The more discussed and consensual the definition of each term is, the greater the acceptance and adoption by all the people on the team. This glossary can also be part of the onboarding process in the team of new elements.

There are many interesting examples in the industry of glossaries defining the main terms used by the teams. Whether nationally or internationally, it is not difficult to find inspirations or excellent references. To help in this search, here are some suggestions for visits:

Relationship with other teams

The definition of a glossary of terminologies, uniform to the entire design team, whatever their work context is also a very valuable contribution in the relationship with other teams. Whether with the development, marketing, strategy, business or any other team, sharing these definitions helps other teams to understand the design team’s work a little better.

In the relationship between the various work teams, language is moreover one of the major points of friction. Often, the problems of communication between teams, is not so much in the absence of a sense of cooperation, but rather, simply in the use of different languages, in some cases referring to the same words. For example, the conceptual definition of “personas” between UX and marketing is substantially different, which can raise many doubts in the relationship and communication of these two teams.

DXD Dictionary

On the subject of the glossary and the exercise of defining the main terminologies of the digital design industry, the DXD Dictionary seeks to constitute itself as another simple contribution. Although it is a tool in constant evolution, its current version, available through the blog, already gathers hundreds of references of terms, organized in several categories.

Each of the terms in the dictionary also has a series of suggestions for reading content from many different authors, which can help to perceive other perspectives. Many of the terms in the dictionary also have a short description and definition associated with them.

The most important thing, not only in the DXD Dictionary, but mainly about the shared glossary of the design teams, is that nothing is written on the stone and is eternal. Design has undergone an immense evolution in recent years, especially in its digital variant. This constitutes a very concrete challenge, to the evolution not only of work processes and tools, but mainly of the vision and role of design in society.

Read and share more about at www.dxd.pt

Hi. My name is Ruben Ferreira Duarte and I am a portuguese UX/UI Designer, currently living in Lisbon (Portugal). www.everythinks.pt

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