When a Glossary Makes a Difference

By in Community Stories July 30, 2018

“A glossary, also known as a vocabulary or clavis, is an alphabetical list of terms in a particular domain of knowledge with the definitions for those terms” – thanks Wikipedia.

Translated…a glossary is a dictionary or a key for a specific field, industry or even culture.

Or, it’s you when you explain to your 70 year old Aunt that “LOL” does not mean “Lots Of Love” but “Laugh Out Loud” and that she has been lol’ing your social media rants like a psychopath and must pay! She may be 70 but anyone with social media access is dangerous…even with good intentions.

We all asked someone, or the the internet, what LOL was at one stage. Then proceeded to use it way, way too much. LOL.

Why is a glossary important to us as designers?

Whenever something is translated into more than one language. The industry standard or first step in that process is to supply a Glossary or a Glossary of Terms. And that is what we as designers, do, we translate words into our language of layout/design/pictures. So to help the process along, having a glossary is fantastic.

Because we designers look into so many other cultures or domains of knowledge, a glossary is important when it comes to acronyms, abbreviations or are just unique terms to that field. Terms the client may deal with day to day, but we deal with once or possibly twice a year. For example: a whale, is both a sea dwelling mammal and a person willing to spend a lot of money. Also it is a measure of a how good a time is being had. But most importantly “whale” was something my Aunt used to call me when I was very young and learning to swim…

Knowing which “whale” is in use is important.

Where is the glossary in the competitions/briefs on Topcoder?

Sometimes they are provided, but 9 out of 10 times they are not provided. But! That does not stop you as a designer/wireframer/ideator from creating a glossary for yourself. After using the 5W’s (+H), creating a glossary is the best way to really understand the core of what a brief is asking of you as a designer(or co-pilot). Especially when it comes to personas who have terms applied to them

e.g.

Shopper: someone who browses the service to potentially make a purchase, but is not a registered user

versus

Buyer: someone who has already purchased from the service and/or is a registered user.

When is the right time to start or create a glossary?

Normally at the beginning of the design process, when trying to understand what is expected of the design, is the absolute best practice. As a co-pilot, if there are more than three terms that are unique to the brief, is the first moment when a glossary becomes useful. Generally, once a glossary has begun it immediately starts gathering momentum and more terms gravitate their way to it. Don’t resist the process. If you have to ask yourself ,“…is this necessary?” then the answer is immediately yes, because you asked the question. There is no shame in explaining something you may regard as being obvious…sometimes it is not obvious.
If a term or terms are used often (more than 5 times) that is a good opportunity to create a glossary for that term. Even if the term is “understood”, for the amount of times used, its’ importance to the brief might warrant that it is entered as a glossary item.

Glossaries can grow and evolve with you as both a designer and a co-pilot. Keep em, they will serve you well.

Who is the best person to write a glossary for a brief?

The Client is always the best person to check the glossary for accuracy. Following that is the pm/co-pilot. This is a great opportunity for the client to actively participate in the whole process.

What do I, as a designer, do with a glossary?

A glossary is also known as a Glossary of Key Words (or Terms). The “key” to using a glossary is to unlock a better understanding of that domain of knowledge. Personally, I use a glossary three times in a brief. In the beginning, the middle and end. The beginning, to understand what is required. The middle, while I am working, to speed everything up. The end, to check all the work done. If there is a glossary available I will read it before the brief itself…it is a great summary of all the “actors” in play. And most importantly, to check if I missed anyone(people) or anything out at the end. In that order. People Precipitate Propriety.

People: persons, personas
Precipitate: to cause, to make
Propriety: the correct rules or manners

If a glossary is not supplied and I am having difficulty with the brief. One of my first steps is to create a glossary to simplify or divide the terms into something I can conquer. If I am doing more than one competition at the same time. That is also a good time for creating a glossary. As it is a great refresher or recap of the whole brief.

How do you create a glossary?

The main goal of a glossary is to not introduce any new terms while explaining a term itself. There is no real limit to explaining a term. But keeping the explanation simple is key.

E.g.
Term/Acronym/Phrase/Label: explanation of …

I.e:

Orange: Wind or insect pollinated tree fruit with segments, seeds and is high in vitamin C. Also a color.

Vs

Orange: Fruit. Delicious.

Explain something that everyone can understand. A condensation of thought. Treat explanations as if you were talking to a 10 year old child.

If there was anything I could say to that 10 year old me being mercilessly ridiculed by his Aunt while learning to swim, it would be “You are not a whale! You are a dolphin! LOL!”