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Lost in translation

I had the privilege to present a tutorial/talk at UX Cambridge 2015 with Boguslawa Kaplan about the importance of language in UX. Boguslawa is a professional interpreter. Interpreters have an impressive working memory as they interpret on the fly. The skill is truly impressive and one, which has much overlap with user research. Thus I proposed this session in order to gain a better understanding of the overlap. The slide deck is at the end of this post but I just wanted to highlight a few things I learned along the way about the use of language in user research and what we could learn from professional interpreters.

  1. Prepare for the language in your session. Interpreters will study/research in advance of a session to ensure that they are familiar with the vocabulary. When words are ambiguous they ensure they understand all the variations of that word and make quick decisions on the implications of an interpretation. So too user researchers should prepare for specialist language in advance.
  2. Interpreters pay specific attention to the intonation. Intonation is the music of a language - the rises and falls used when pronouncing. Intonation can have a dramatic effect on a phrase and the intonation you use for example when asking questions could bias the research.
  3. When interpreters are uncertain or sense there could be ambiguity then they tend to be less specific. Hence, it is better to be less specific rather than giving a false interpretation. Likewise this wisdom translates into user research.
  4. Communicate research without evaluation. There is a real danger of biasing research by the language we choose to use. For example, if we observe a participant in a usability test hesitating at the checkout and we report "she seemed to struggle when checking out" we are inferring something that might not be there.
  5. Separate data collection from analysis. This will ensure that you limit any bias and other researchers can do analysis without being biased by your analysis.
  6. Non-verbal communication is a big part of communication. This is especially true when communicating emotions as the researcher Albert Mehrabian discovered. This probably indicates why most people prefer to meet in person rather than over video-link communication.
  7. The context is especially important, as it will inform analysis. For example, B explained how in a mental health setting she kept all the grammatical errors as it was essential for the therapist to hear them in order to make a diagnosis.