10 Embarrassing Examples of Designer Jargon You’ve Really Got to Stop Using

Who decided jargon was a good thing? When did we start believing it made us look smarter?

I don’t know about you but one of my biggest gripes as a designer is the amount of jargon I come across, especially in the web industry!

I despise it so much, I actually created a strict ‘No Jargon Policy’ over at Web123 and I encourage my design partners to follow the same suite. If we absolutely must use jargon for some technical reason, our rule is that we also explain it in plain English just in case our client doesn’t understand.

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A note from Preston: This post is written by Bianca Board who has recently accepted the offer to become a regular contributor on our Millo writing team. I couldn’t be more excited about the content that Bianca will be sharing with the Millo community. She brings a unique perspective that none of our other writers can bring, including myself. I am a huge fan of her content at her own blog and can’t wait to learn more from her as we go. Please join me in welcoming Bianca by leaving a comment on this post.)


I’m a jargon-buster and here’s why.

We don’t use jargon because we don’t want to set ourselves up as boffins who are better than our clients… because we aren’t. Yes, we know more about web development and design than our clients do, but it doesn’t mean we’re superior.

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Sometimes I think we’re a single beacon of light in a world of geek-speak web developers… but I hope you’ll join me in my crusade.

Oh and by the way, if any of my darling web geeks DO accidentally talk in jargon I make them sit in the dunce’s corner and watch grumpy cat videos until they promise never to do it again. 😉

The only time jargon is ok is when…

The one exception to my no-jargon rule is if you’re ‘talking shop’ with another designer or developer. I understand you’ll have to talk CSS and PMS and all that jazz. But try talking CSS, XHTML5, W3C and PMS to your average client and you’re going to get some very strange looks!

Seriously, my message today is that you won’t get more sales by confusing people with jargon unless you’re in one of the following industries:

• Weight loss products (“Now with added Bioperine”. That’s just black pepper by the way!)
• SEO suppliers (don’t get me started)
• Health supplements (double the wing of your wang)
• Web development (but only the bad ones do this!)*

Did you notice that graphic design isn’t in that list? That’s because it shouldn’t be. Ever.

*Now here’s the rub… In web you may get a few more sales over the line using jargon. I call that selling by fear, uncertainty and doubt (or FUD for your pure acronym pleasure). But it doesn’t create raving fans and I think it’s bad karma. Get used to speaking in clear, plain English. It will make you more approachable and therefore trustworthy; and trust is what puts a whole lot more in your bank account; more than jargon ever will!

Why clear communication is everything.
Jargon and abbreviations bamboozle clients and makes them feel stupid. And that’s not playing nice is it? It gives them a feeling that maybe, just maybe, you’re pulling the wool over their eyes.

Don’t believe me? How would you feel if a marketing consultant contacted you looking for business and they said this:

“We provide communication strategies which create resolutions to problematic aspects of effective communication.”

Is it just my Aussie ‘cut-the-crapola’ attitude that cringes at this? I’m sure it doesn’t matter what country you’re in, this sort of language does not build trust. I’d be thinking I was about to get a whole lot of baloney from this guy, wouldn’t you?

The #1 reason to kick jargon out of your business-speak.
If you want to build a successful design business then you need to build rapport with your clients and sales prospects; and that means no jargon.

If you’re talking in designer ‘geek speak’ then you’re not communicating and you’re certainly not building that all-important rapport.

So, since we’re all designers here, and since I want you to get more profitable, let’s look at some potential jargon pitfalls you or your team could be falling into (that I hope you’ll stop, like right now!).

1. Brand alignment.
“We will be bringing all your visual corporate elements into ‘brand alignment’.”

Ah-huh. Is that a way of saying we’re going to ensure all your sales and marketing materials are consistent?

2. Paradigm shift.
“We’ve shifted the paradigm on logos, now we’re offering a cohesive design that works with your marketing message.”

Come on, really? Aren’t you just designing an awesome logo for better brand recognition? I don’t care how kick-ass your design is, how exactly is it going to shift anyone’s paradigm?

3. Web2.0
“We’re offering you the cutting edge of web design, a complete web2.0 experience.”

OK fine, I raise you your Web2.0 with MY awesomest newest website creation which is, like, totally Web4.7. Come on, does this even mean anything to anyone anymore?

4. Leverage
“We’re leveraging WordPress to deliver an enterprise platform to your kindergarten stakeholders”

I’m sorry this doesn’t sound serious and corporate, it just sounds wanky. Didn’t you mean you’re going to be “using” WordPress as the platform to build their new kindergarten website?

5. Open the kimono.
“We’re going to open the kimono and show you how to brand your business.”

This means ‘sharing information’… but way creepier. If you hear anyone using this one, you have my permission to give them a virtual slap. Only joking! Mostly.

6. FTP – File Transfer Protocol
“We use file transfer protocols to safely share information between parties.”

Sheesh, if you mean you securely share files online, just say so.

7. GUI – Graphical User Interface.
“We’ll research and design a complete GUI consistent with the abilities and mindset of your target market.”

I’m pretty sure they’re just talking about making the website/device easy to use.

8. Enterprise Level.
“Our enterprise level CMS software uses state of the art CSS and XHTML5 coding.”

I think I hate corporate marketing/tech language most of all. Sure it sounds impressive but do clients really understand what it means, or even care? No. They just want to know that it’s going to work. Period.

9. KPIs
“I’ve just been running SEO for SMBs so that they can effectively hit their KPIs.”

Why couldn’t you say ‘I’ve been helping businesses get seen on Google for maximum results’? *facepalm*.

10. Web ACRONYMS in general!

If you’re about to write out an acronym to your client, STOP and think. Can you say it simply? The web industry is the absolute worst for this. For example:

“We deliver website solutions using a mix of state of the art technologies that leverage W3C compliance to HTML5 (November 2013 WhatWG Draft) and CSS3 (ensuring backwards compatibility to CSS2 ensuring compatibility with all leading client-side platforms, on top of an enterprise-grade ORM CMS platform that is built to enable compliance with 80% of PCI-DSS 2.0 requirements without additional resourcing.”

Believe it or not, this actually means something; but after being forced to read it, do you even care anymore? I know I lost the will to live right after the words ‘we deliver’. 😛

Oh and another amazing one I heard the other day was a company that claimed to be “building websites using technology created by NASA”. I’m not even sure what that one means!

So, in summary, please remember if you say something that your client doesn’t understand then you’re not communicating, you’re just talking at them, and that’s bad for business.

If you want to earn more respect, build better relationships and win more clients it’s a no-jargon policy from now on, ok? Do we have a deal?

What’s the worst jargon you’ve ever heard?

I know there’s tons more I could have listed here so let’s keep the conversation going… Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. I love “Enterprise Level” – I see it all the time. Accompanied by “Call For Pricing” – which is always fun. Roadblocks in the way of customers.

    There’s a time and place for using “jargon” and some level of technical language should be accepted when working with a web company – but people do need to tone it down!

  2. Great article Bianca, I was just writing a blog post of my own actually. In an attempt to find some more extreme examples of web development jargon I came across this post and it did make me laugh.

    Sometimes when I go networking, I’ve overheard other people having a conversation, who clearly work in web/branding/online marketing, and all you can hear is an endless waterfall of jargon falling out of one of their mouths. It’s quite funny to steal a glimpse of the poor victims face as they desperately try to escape. It’s a great way to get into a conversation actually, because you can just walk in and they’ll be desperate to open the conversation up with anyone else!

  3. Brilliant . . . . .
    inspiring article & constructive conversations going on here

    * outta curiosity is ‘Lorem Ipsum’ included here?

  4. Great article Boardy 🙂

    The same message can be applied to the building industry, when you hold someones hand and walk them through the process and talk in plain English rather than building lingo it will go a long way in the eyes of your client.

  5. Bianca, LOVE this post!

    I was recently chatting with another designer who was talking about a recent proposal…as he began to complain about the response he received from the potential client, I had to stifle a giggle. I hadn’t understood half of what he’d said was in the proposal myself, it was so full of crazy geekspeak. It was no wonder they were basically like, ‘huh?!’

    It’s easy for the jargon to just roll off of our tongues…I’ve definitely been guilty of it (and in fact when I recently redesigned my own site, I really tried to simplify my content). But it’s a fact a client will love and respect you more if you’re not speaking over their head. They’re already impressed with you (via your portfolio, referrals, etc), or they wouldn’t be interested in hiring you…no need to overwhelm them with your extensive industry lingo. Rapport is such an important part of the process…keeping to the KISS principle has served me well.

    Thanks for the post. Bust that jargon! 😉

  6. Hi Bianca, welcome to Millo.

    I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your article. The jargon I used to use was “Corporate Identity”, either in english as spanish… I always had issues with it, and believe me, I had many hard times with most people every time I used it, because they did not know what that was, and it made me feel guilty.

    Best of luck to you, and to all the Millo team. It is my first comment here.

  7. Some people like to use the jargon to make what your getting sound some how better, but I find dropping some of it in doesn’t do any harm as you get some people looking for it even if they don’t understand it.

    II would tend to put it in like this ;
    “We build websites on a Content Management System (CMS), Basically this means that you can update information on your site without the need for hiring a designer!”

    I think it keeps it nice and short and if people are looking for the word CMS then your covered. So I try and keep as little Jargon as possible with just a little dotted around to keep the few happy.

    1. I like that Matthew, exactly how I’d do it too. Acronyms aren’t jargon if it’s fully explained and very lightly used! 🙂

  8. I think your Jargon policy is spot-on Bianca. Not only can jargon create a barrier, but I think in many cases it glosses over the benefits to the client.

    Nobody needs (or wants) to know if you’re using CSS3; what they would be impressed with is the knowledge that their website will work with all the most recent computers and mobile phones,.and it will be easy to restyle in a few years time.

    No one cares if you’re using a CMS. They do, however, love the knowledge that they will be able to update their website easily without having to touch any code.

    That said, I did mention to a client that ‘it will be easy for your to update and change the text and images on your site without having to come back to me every time’.

    Their response was ‘Ooooh; like a CMS?!’

    Loving the articles Bianca; especially impressed by use of the word ‘wanky’!

    Keep ’em coming!

    1. I bet that client felt super-chuffed at being able to out-jargon a designer geek, am I right? Haha. Oh and thanks Andrew, I shall be throwing more Australian-isms at you regularly!

      1. It’s often used as an adjective in the UK without the extra ‘y’ e.g: “Their brand new site’s a bit wank; it’s not even responsive!”.

        I’m liking ‘wanky’ though, it adds a certain charm.

        1. I personally prefer “wonky” to “wanky” since it it doesn’t come with the slight sexual innuendo.

          1. Sorry if it caused you offence Jens, but you gotta remember I’m an Australian and we’re a laid-back and earthy lot…. and it wouldn’t even occur to us that the term originated from a sexual innuendo! I guess Aussies and Brits can seem a strange lot to the rest of the world. 🙂

  9. Great article and extremely relevant! I’m glad I’m not the only one against using jargon, but it’s certainly a two-way street with clients. I’m looking forward to the Christmas break when I won’t be asked when something is going to be “actioned”, or if I receive an impromptu phone call to “workshop” on some ideas together on the spot.

    1. A break… what’s that? Oh yes, it was something I recommended in my last post to stay fresh and creative. Hmm, note to self: follow own advice!

  10. Haha! Those are great! Throw in the cheeky idea that to be a decent designer you have to drink lots of coffee! (drives me crazy when I see this)!

    1. Yeah how dare they stereotype us all as jittery designers Aaron, lol. I’m currently into health drinks and the occasional champagne!

  11. I Agree 100%! I even hate saying “SEO” and “CMS” to clients. Most of my clients don’t even really know what either means, even though they ask for it.

    1. A little bit of knowledge is a terrible thing. It’s hard not to roll your eyes at clients sometimes, huh? 🙂

  12. Great read but you almost lost me a couple of times. I think it was a bit too long, sorta “jargony” or “wordy”. Short, simple, and straight to the point is always best. That is one of the reasons I like getting the email updates and reading ever post because they are easy to read and get straight to the point, but are still every insightful. Other than that, as an up and coming designer I love these posts they have helped me out greatly in my budding design career!

    1. Thanks Julian and point taken. I tend to get a bit carried away at times but rest assured, I’ll be sure to keep a nice mix of short and wordy posts for your reading pleasure. 😉

      Be sure to let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to write about. I’ll keep it short I promise!

  13. Love this article – it make me chuckle! When I started my business (and even long before that), I made a conscious decision to not baffle clients/stakeholders/site users, with ‘geeky speak’ unless they asked me a specific question or I knew they actually were interested in the more technical aspects of what I was doing. So many of my competitor websites talked about everything in some secret IT language but not many actually said that could produce a website that worked for the client! I’ve spent the last 15 years being a translator between IT and clients and really, all clients need to know is that it works and that’s why they like working with me! Very simple! Love your work! Thanks, Ellen.

    1. Whoa, Ellen, it’s like I just heard myself speak…. eery! That is so absolutely true and we say this point blank to prospects “All you want from us is a website that works and makes you money, correct?” They always say ‘yes’.

      You know what the silly thing is that I’ve found in my experience, even when a potential new client starts asking jargon-ish questions, in most cases they have some IT or competitor parrot on their shoulder telling them what to say/ask. We often joke with prospects in these cases and say “Go and ask if they have an AOC and if it’s compliant with the latest web standards”. If anyone does take the time to ask (which most don’t because we’ve already sealed the deal taking this approach) they have been known to come back saying “Yes I asked them and they do”.

      Funny thing is, AOC stands for Air Operators Certificate and is only relevant in the aviation industry. BUSTED!

      But that’s just our little secret. 😉

  14. Thank you for this very important information on how to look smart to clients. As an apparel art designer expanding into print and web, this is great stuff!

  15. I so agree and love this post, and especially appreciate your attitude of being and meeting your customer on an equal level, and showing that by not speaking jargon! I recently redesigned my site and made special efforts to keep it all down to earth and understandable. Jargon really irks me too, this one gets points for sounding poetic though: “The design uses white space and subtle touches of Javascript-enabled progressive enhancement to balance clarity and the capability to cross-promote”. Umm ok?

    Aside from jargon, another depressing sight on web service sites (and elsewhere) is totally overly “optimizing” each sentence and paragraph, and stuffing the content with keywords and search phrases. It jargonizes the copy too, makes it hard to read one line of text, and what’s almost worse, is the mentality that comes through — I’m not talking to you but to robots crawling my site…

    1. Thanks for your kind words Bhakti, and great to see you’re already on the No Jargon bandwagon with your new site. I guarantee you will get more clients by taking that no bull approach.

      And yes, keyword stuffing is such bad practice and it’s amazing how often it still happens, even though Google caught on and started demeriting pages for it years ago. I find it difficult to find really good SEO copywriters that can actually strike a good balance between both, it’s definitely an acquired skill.

  16. The sad thing is that terms like GUI used to mean something useful. Now, because of all the ignorance of history and constant misinterpretations by people who only just started in the business and think they’re hot s*** already, those terms mean completely different things and are only vaguely connected with the older meanings in only a conceptual way. There are lots of snake oil salesmen in the field of design now and we’ve got to constantly fight against the perception that designers are pretentious sham-wow salesmen.

    1. You hit the nail on the head Ryan, couldn’t have said it better myself. It really gets my goat how many web developers and companies here in Australia sell on fear by using copious amounts of useless jargon. They really give us a bad name and there’s no need for it.

      Maybe we should start a crusade…. ha ha

  17. This is hysterical! Yes, some of the jargon you mentioned I didn’t even understand and I’m in the industry. I think I’m pretty good about it but it’s easy to get lost in industry talk, especially if you spend more time developing, than selling -I get lost in the web world. I attended a industry based event, for Technology companies and let myself run wild talking shop talk and industry jargon, it was a blast! But there’s no place for that in a client meeting.

    Does anyone have suggestions on how to keep proposals not full of jargon without having to spell out what it SEO, an E-Blast etc?

    1. I’m glad you found it funny Gibranna, I had a fair bit of fun writing it! Call it years of industry frustration vented into one long blog post!

      When talking SEO in emails and proposals etc, I always just spell it out as ‘Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which in simple terms means moving your site higher onto the pages of Google for particular search terms like ‘pink fluffy widget’ so that you can get more quality traffic and in turn more sales from your website.’

      For E-blast, I’m assuming you’re talking about EDM’s (Bahahaha just kidding, couldn’t help but throw that one in!), otherwise known as ‘Email Marketing’, is that right? I just talk using language like “We can setup an opt-in form on your website to build your list of email subscribers so that you have a way of drawing visitors back to your website if they’re not ready to buy now. As you well may have heard before, the money’s in the list. This way you can create branded emails from right within your website and send them out to everyone at once then track and measure your results. This is called Email Marketing and it’s one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing you can do.”

      Hope that helps!

  18. Hi Bianca,
    I like this article/blog. Keep it up, like your hairstyle:-)
    Engineering Designer

  19. The word that is WAY overused and almost always used incorrectly is “utilize”… I know it’s not directly related to “designer jargon”… but it’s commonly used in business speak.

    Incorrect usage: “We utilize the best software to develop amazing design and websites.” In this case, just say the word “use”.
    Correct usage: “We utilize designers to augment our print staff when we get an abundance of work.”

    When you utilize, you are using something for a purpose that is not its initial purpose… to accomplish something else. “I utilized a butter knife to pry out that nail.”

    1. So true Phillip, you make a really great point! I’ll add that to my mental stockpile of jargon to steer clear off, I totally agree, it’s silly.

  20. I started my working life as a software developer, and have spent time as a system administrator and technical support person, so I’d already dealt with more than my fair share of acronyms long before I got involved in web design & development. Microsoft is one of the more memorable perpetrators, on both counts, but by no means are they alone. I briefly skirted around the world of IBM and DEC (that’s Digital Equipment Corporation for you youngsters – now no more, long since consumed by Compaq, which in turn was consumed by Hewlett-Packard) but didn’t stay long enough to fall into the acronym stockpiles that either firm amassed.

    Thankfully, I’ve done enough technical writing and client / supplier liason to be able to control my own use of acronyms these days – unless I’m certain that the recipient will know and understand, I avoid them as much as possible in favour of Plain English.

    1. Wow, Alan with an impressive background like that, you’d be really entertaining to watch stirring up a bunch of acronym-loving nerds around a dinner table. I can picture it now…

      Thankfully you saw the light early on and opted for plain English! Hallelujah!

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