The Role of Language

The Role of Language

Language frames and informs the way we think and interact with one another. I believe the web industry is currently suffering from the unabated use of terms that don’t accurately frame and inform the creative, continuous act of web production.

Some of the terms I’ll suggest might resonate with you while others might seem utterly ridiculous, at least at first. Even if you choose to not use these terms outwardly, I invite you to think in these terms inwardly as you move through the process of producing, gifting, and offering. I believe you will find that these terms better represent the activities of web production, and provide a touch of humanity and continued accountability to an often impersonal business.

More importantly, I believe you will find that by simply making small adjustments to the language you use, even if only in your personal, internal speech, your perception of your role and the roles of those you work with will change, you will produce better work, and enjoy your work more as a result.

Suggested Terms

Click on each term for the reasoning behind the suggestion.

  • Produce – Consider using Produce in place of Design, Develop, or Build.
  • Gift – Consider using Gift in place of Deliver.
  • Offer – Consider using Offer in place of Release or Launch.
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Suggested Term: Produce

“Produce”

Consider using Produce in place of Design, Develop, or Build.

When referring to the activity of an entire team, I use the term produce in place of verbs such as design, develop, or build. I do this for three reasons.

  1. Given that web production teams consist of project leaders, business representatives, users, designers, and developers, it makes sense to refer to the combined, collaborative activities of the team as production. Designers design. Developers develop. The “whole team” produces a web application.
  2. In his book, Extreme Programming Explained, Kent Beck places importance on iterative design recommending that teams “perform all of the activities of web [production] at the same time.” The term design and development implies phased thinking, and limits the activities of web application production to those two activities. Knowledge gathering, prioritizing, and planning are a few other activities that must continually occur throughout a web project. The term production makes no assumptions about the activities taking place, and allows for any activity to occur at any time and in any order when producing an application.
  3. The terms develop and build tend to carry the connotation that the web application being produced will reach a state of completeness. In my opinion, the notion that a web application will ever take on a final form is the most problematic misconception of web application production. There is no such thing as a state of completeness for most web applications. A web application will have varying degrees of value, and it will either be available or unavailable for use, but it will always be subject to change and improvement. This is true regardless of who is responsible for making those changes.

Suggested Term: Offer

“Offer”

Consider using Offer in place of Release or Launch.

The terms release and launch are used by production teams to mark the milestone of making a web application, or a feature enhancement to a web application, available to the application’s users. These terms grate me too. They too connote a sense of finality, and the milestone is often celebrated as the end of production activity for a given web application. This is great news and a great accomplishment for the team, but it is merely the beginning of life for the web application itself. An application has no value until it is made available for use, and it is only then that its value can be truly measured. From the user’s perspective, the web application is brand new. The user, and the business for that matter, will not be as convinced of its value as the production team will have been during its happy hour celebration. From an outward-in perspective, the production team has offered an application that may or may not be accepted by the users and the business. By all means, celebrate the milestone, but bear in mind that just like child birth, the work has only just begun. No I don’t recommend using the word birth in place of offer. I don’t want to have to wake up to hop on a 5am “birth call.” Gross.

Suggested Term: Gift

“Gift”

Consider using Gift in place of Deliver.

I’m not a fan of the verb deliver or the noun deliverable in the context of web application production. When I think of delivery, I think of the UPS guy leaving a non-descript brown package at my door, and walking away taking no responsibility for the quality or fitness of the product inside. In searching for a better term, I arrived at the word gift. Granted, using the term gift in place of deliver in a business environment is a bit of a stretch. However, for the giver, the term gift carries with it a sense of accountability and the anticipation of welcoming enthusiasm from the recipient. If I am on a production team that will be handing off a web application to an altogether different sustainment team, I am likely to do better work if I think in terms of gifting the application I’ve helped to produce as opposed to delivering it and bailing undetected. Also, like the terms develop and build, deliver connotes the problematic misconception of finality.