The Jargonizer

At the 2018 What Design Can Do conference in Amsterdam I hosted one of my Exclusive Design Challenges. 20 attendees worked on five cases for three real people with real disabilities: Marijn, a developer who is motor disabled, Marie, a designer who is Deaf, and Larissa, a student who is blind. The different teams came up with a few very interesting ideas. There was one team that basically said well, if all websites are boring and look the same anyway, then they should all look like a boring simple grid with one single action in each grid cell. Which would be a perfect solution for Marijn, who has difficulty with fine motor control. I should make a prototype of this idea one day. I did make a simple, working prototype of an idea that another team came up with though. I’d like to know what you think of it and I’d like your help with testing its use. But first let me explain.

Lectures for Deaf people

One of the problems that Marie used to have when she was a student was attending lectures. She would have to look at the sign language interpreter continuously, and look at the slides, and take notes at the same time. Another big issue was that often there is no sign for jargon, and lectures at university are often about jargon. The practice today is that the interpreter will spell out the term one time, for instance h-e-t-e-r-o-l-o-g-i-c-a-l d-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y, and later on they will refer to it as that term. This way of referencing makes it harder to understand the term and its context. One of the ways to understand jargon is by hearing it repeatedly, hearing how it’s used and in what context it is used.

Flipping things

There are studies that show that old fashioned lectures are not the best way to learn[1]. It’s hard to keep listening and to stay focused for a long time. This is where ideas like flipping the classroom[2] come from, where students watch a recorded lecture at home, and have time to discuss it and work on the subject in class. So a logical solution to Marie’s problem would be to replace the lecture with a different kind of learning activity. This team came up with the idea to ask students to design a new sign language gesture for jargon. And since I asked them to add a layer of nonsense to their idea, they thought it would be nice if the students would have to use emojis to construct their new sign.

I asked the attendees of this workshop what a logical next step of this workshop would be, and one of the answer was prototyping and testing of first ideas. And so I created The Jargonizer, a simple tool that asks you to translate a difficult term into emoji.

The term Jargonizer translated using four emojis

Small teams of students are asked to use this tool to find a symbol for a word like inclusive design by using emojis. The idea is that this way they are forced to research the term themselves: they will have to understand what it means in quite some detail before they will be able to create a good chain of emojis that is a clear interpretation of the term. I guess in practice I would give them relevant source material to study the term.

Removing sign language

The first iteration of this prototype asked people explicitly to design a sign language gesture. But I noticed that people found this to be confusing. People were concerned that they didn’t know anything about sign language, or they couldn’t see any relationship between sign language and emojis — and probably rightly so. Instead of working on the assignment they wanted to discuss the difference between gestures and emojis. So I removed all references to sign language. Which sounds weird, right? The reason they came up with the Jargonizer is to help Marie and her interpreter to come up with new gestures. But removing this reference doesn’t mean this tool can’t be used this way. We can still send the ideas generated by this tool to Marie and her interpreter, and they can still use it as input to construct their own real gesture.

Maybe this is an example of one of the principles of universal design that the design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities[3]

Does this tool even make any sense?

I think this can be one of many ways to learn jargon. In the handful of quick user tests I did with my class mates at the Master Design it looked like it helps people to discuss the meaning of the word in detail. The constraint of working with emojis was seen as limiting by some — I want to fill in words in a text field! — but at the same time it forced people to overthink all the details of the term a few times and look at it from different perspectives in order to try and find the emojis that could describe it. So as a learning tool this could be useful.

I haven’t tested the results with sign language users yet. But we can do that right here. I suggest that you use the Jargonizer to create a string of emojis that represent the term *inclusive design, hit the button, and then paste the URL to your solution in the comments section below this post. I’ll then ask Marie to tell me if this makes any sense.


  1. Middendorf, Joan, and Alan Kalish. “The “change-up” in lectures.” Natl. Teach. Learn. Forum. Vol. 5. No. 2. 1996.  ↩

  2. Berrett, Dan. “How ‘flipping’ the classroom can improve the traditional lecture.” The Education Digest 78.1 (2012): 36.  ↩

  3. Clarkson, P. John, et al. Inclusive design: Design for the whole population. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.  ↩

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