Usability And Jargon: Can The Two Coexist?

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In today’s fast-paced, time is money world, jargon is a timesaving alternative. Acronyms litter our conversation, and everything has to be done by COP today. Of course, we all use jargon from time to time, but where is it most prevalent – lawyers? Doctors? Bankers? No, it’s the humble IT professional.

A survey into jargon carried out by Six Degrees Group found that people believe IT professionals use more jargon than lawyers, politicians and bankers combined – despite not entirely knowing what it means. The survey found that 22% believed Platform as a Service (PaaS) was a new railway management system, whilst 16% thought Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) was a new road project.

Jargon in a Usability-Focused World

Of course nobody wants to see the end of jargon – it serves an important task and saves both businesses and people time and effort, allowing for a much more streamlined communication. However its use in modern discourse, particularly that in the workplace needs, perhaps, some reconsideration. At the same time, one of the cardinal guidelines of usability has always been to avoid using jargon – especially if such websites are likely to be read by users who are not familiar with such technical terminology.

That being said, as our lives gradually make their way to “the cloud”, and more of our treasured memories go online, the collective understanding of computer-based terminology increases. Even the term “the cloud” would have been difficult to explain to a non-IT person five years ago, but now everyone is pretty-much aware of “the cloud” in their lives.

Jargon need not be a boundary to usability. Used in the correct way, it can actually enhance it. If you are writing about a highly-specialised topic or something that only people who understand the jargon would use, it can help cohesion and speed of understanding, allowing you to provide a highly informative piece of content. If, however, you’re writing for a generic audience with a general level of understanding, perhaps lay off the shop talk.

Similarly for usability, jargon needs to be calculated and considered at every turn. A user’s experience will depend on how much they understand – helping to make sure they understand everything you’ve thrown at them will create a better user experience.

Jargon in IT

It’s well known that jargon can put off customers or readers alike, but what about colleagues? As we’ve established, IT professionals use jargon proficiently and prolifically, which can occasionally make them hard to understand. So what can we do to combat this?

Aside from learning what they’re talking about – a seemingly unending task, there are various jargon busters to help you understand what different acronyms mean, and help you get your separate your Hypervisor from your IaaS.

So, what does some of the most pervasive IT jargon actually mean? The study cited above lists these as the most commonly-used IT terms that non-tecnical users often encounter when dealing with IT personnel:


IaaS, or Infrastructure as a Service, is one of the three service models of cloud computing, along with PaaS (Platform as a Service) and SaaS (Software as a Service). It provides access to computing resource through the cloud. This could be anything from virtual server space to IP addresses. As the name suggests, it’s the infrastructure that is the service.


Platform as a Service gives the user the environment and the tools they need to create apps and services on the internet – hence the use of the word “platform”. These tools are then accessible via a browser.


Software as a Service, like Platform as a Service, offers access to software via a browser and internet connection. It has many business applications, though sites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr all fall under SaaS.


LAMP Stack

LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) is a software stack that can be used to form a software stack that can be used for building web servers (and/or application servers).


RAID, or Redundant Array of Independent Disks, helps speed up your computer’s performance by spreading data across different disks on the cloud.


SAN, or Storage Area Network, “pools” disks into a network to separate storage and computing. All cloud providers use SAN in some form or another as it helps with live storage, backup and/or archiving.


A Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is where software and user information is kept in a central environment, then is delivered and accessed when a user signs in. This can be on PC, tablet, phone etc. This means that instead of having to upgrade each individual PC, the administrator is able to upgrade the core platform only, saving time and effort.


UAT, or User Acceptance Testing, is a process where the customer is involved with the testing of an application or service to ensure it meets their requirements.





(Lead image source: duncan c)