Technical language in user interfaces

Too often do we developers think as technical users. Take the following example I recently bumped into.

Our application, an electronic health record for hospitals, needed a feature to send simple requests. The user would select a patient, select the request (let’s say ‘Request for MRI scan’), and then fill in the details (what to scan, for example).

We would then simply send an email to the correct email address, and include a PDF in attachment. This PDF would contain the details of the request. We named the attachment… ‘attachment.pdf’. Hurrah! To make it complete, the body of the email contained no reference of the patient, so the receiver couldn’t know which patient it concerned, unless he/she opened the attachment.

So we set out to change name of the attachment (among other things like the body of course), and changed it to… ‘attachmentJohn Doe.pdf’. That’s better, but it shows we were thinking like technical people. At least we used ‘John Doe’ with a space, and not JohnDoe. Because ever since Windows 95 (I think), the normal world has moved on and named their files something like ‘This is the request for John Doe(2).pdf’.

So we changed it to ‘Request for MRI scan – John Doe.pdf’. That’s more like it. Use your technical style in code, but use normal language in your UI.