Donnie Berkholz's Story of Data

Clarity trumps cleverness: On product naming

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In a past life, I spent a number of years as a copy editor at various newspapers. That meant I was a professional typo finder, among other things — like ensuring errors wouldn’t get us sued and the topic of this post, writing headlines. It’s a little-known fact, but the people who find typos are the same ones who create what could be the most important part of a news story: the headline to catch your potential readers’ attention.

Headlines are unusual beasts in print journalism, because they must satisfy unusual formatting requirements. For example, they might need to fit into and entirely fill 3 columns of text in a specific font size, without going overly long in any of those lines. It’s not quite that demanding online, and yet there are still space requirements so headlines don’t look absurd, especially as automated formatting grows closer and closer to print quality. To begin drawing the analogy to product naming, it’s not so dissimilar there because your brand space is limited — you can’t have a name longer than 2-3 words without beginning to confuse people.

The most important lesson I learned writing headlines was that clarity always beats cleverness. You’re allowed to be clever if and only if you also successfully and clearly communicate the point of the story. In a similar vein, the best product names will tell people instantly and simply what that product does. Recently, Adobe announced it was renaming its Edge product for HTML5-based animation to Edge Animate, which actually tells you something about what it does. In a similar vein, look at some of their other products such as PhotoShop or Illustrator — there is no confusion about what you would do with them. Outside of Adobe, consider examples like Microsoft Office, Apple’s Keynote (from the iWork suite), or Google Maps. Wondering what you might do with any of them? I thought not.

Particularly if you’re entering a new market, or entering an existing one as the underdog, you can’t afford to miss any potential users. This is really just an extension of the adoption funnel out to the earliest end, discovery, so you can transfer the same techniques of thinking about barriers to entry as you should be applying farther down the line.

Disclosure: Adobe and Microsoft are clients; Apple and Google are not.


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