Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"The sea is so great and my boat is so small..."

...how is my feature supposed to get found in all this mess???

Discoverability is one of the harder issues any designer faces.

Part of it is the advertising aspect: pick me, pick me!!  The problem with this is that it's not ALWAYS the right time for your feature to be visible, and if everybody puts a happy flashing glow around their feature, then nothing stands out.  But if you don't stand out at all, how will people see you?  Furthermore, you don't want to be the flashing glowing icon on the screen when people DON'T need you.  Then you're the annoying kid in class with his hand up… "why can't he just keep quiet??"  The key is figuring out what makes you special to the user, be that when they need you, and then get out of the way.  Just like in the Tao of Steve, "Be there, be brilliant, be gone."

Some of it comes back to the launch point discussion.  What is in the users' mind when they need your feature?  What is on their screen?  What information do they have at hand, and what information do they still need to get?  Or what do they need to do?

Once you know these things, picking the right name is what it's all about.

Naming is hard, but completely worth the investment in time:  The right name will make people stop and take notice.  The wrong name will at best make your feature ignorable, and at worst make you a subject of mockery, ridicule, and shame.

Apple is great with names; my personal favorite is TimeMachine, their automated backup solution.  It brings to mind the idea of freeing yourself from linear time, and the ability to instantaneously move to whatever point in time is important to you, to experience that time firsthand.  And isn't that exactly what the user wants when they want a backup solution?  "This stupid computer isn't working right.  It was working right yesterday!!" Ok then, let's just go back to yesterday!

On a tour of the Redhook Brewery in Seattle, I learned that one of its founders supposedly thinks a great way to name something is to take two completely unrelated words, one of them containing the letter K, and put them together.  According to him, the result will be something that sticks in peoples' minds.  I can't speak to the effectiveness of his strategy, but I admit I used it to come up with my blog name... :)

But regardless of how you come up with a name, be it the lightening bolt of inspiration, some strange algorithm involving the letter K, "bible dipping," or any other method, make sure your name speaks to your target audience.  And the only way to do that is to test.  Test TEST TEST!!  I didn't really test my blog name other than to ask a few trusted friends what they thought of it, but that's just a blog.

For a shipping product, you want to know that your name resonates with your audience, that it has the right connotations and brings up the right feelings.  Make sure you can say the name aloud: show a few people the name on paper, and ask how they would pronounce it.  You want to make sure the name is pronounceable, and that people don't come up with some completely alternate way to say it that you don't like.  If it has an acronym, try out the acronym aloud.

On the subject of acronyms, I have to say this: for all our sakes, if the acronym is as interesting or more interesting than the name itself, please, STOP.  Think again.  You probably have a bad name.  The technology world simply does not need one more acronym.  Acronyms make great nicknames for internal discussions, but they're terrible for customers.  And if the acronym is so much easier to say than the name itself, maybe you should give some more thought to a name that rolls off the tongue.

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