UX Power Up: Labeling Systems


Labeling Systems are one of the easiest things to change and one of the most difficult things to get right. Why? Because content is the cheapest and most effective interface. The difficulty lies in the semantics (meaning) that users ascribe to certain words.  

In this week’s UX Power Up, Frank shares 3 important labeling areas that can help improve your usability. Please post your comments below, we would love to hear your thoughts.

Transcript of video above…

Labeling Systems

Frank Spillers, founder of Experience Dynamics, and it’s time for this week’s UX Power Up.

Today we’re talking about Labeling Systems which falls into the category of content usability.

So, labeling systems are those things that give the user attention, or direct them to things they can do on a page typically.  One of the biggest mistakes that companies make – one of the most obvious ones is – the product or service name, the branded name gets put into the link.  So when a user looks at that, they say “Oh, what’s that?  That doesn’t mean anything to me…”  and usually, that language is in the format of the way that the company feels is comfortable, but not the user.  The user kind of has a cognitive dissonance with that, or a “Huh?” kind of thing.  

Three Key Areas

Let’s talk a little bit more about labeling systems as they apply to three different areas:  Headers; Buttons; and Error Messages.

So, headers.. that’s one of the easiest and most common ways to help a user and to clarify a task.   You might write a small piece of text that’s usually three to five words of a header label above an area the user might interact with.  So, for example, if you have functionality here – you’re going to have your label there.   That label will tell the user what they can do in a few words.  

The next one is Buttons. So, buttons are those objects on a page which usually represent a users actions, the actions they can take.  With buttons, or with major actions, or even with links in general,  that you want the user to click on – it’s best practice to label those buttons or those action links with a verb instead of a noun.  Verbs are easier for users to process, they go “Oh, that’s what I need to do on this page…”  it’s a verb.  So using verbs with buttons.

The third one, that is quite common is the Error Message.  There are some fun and funky error messages that you’ve probably seen.  The 404 when a page doesn’t load or it’s the wrong page on a site and you see the “Snap!” or the “Oh!” and different sites will use different drawings or ways to kind of lighten up that landing.  It’s that emotion that I wanted to point out with error messages.   There’s a lot of, our history in software development tells us that you need to be serious – “Fatal Error”, you know – or something, some type of serious system oriented language or some level of formality or seriousness. Studies, for example, at Stanford University have shown that humans actually relate to computers exactly as they do other human beings, and that means that the language that you use on your website should also be informal and reflective of that kind of social interaction.  So, informal language is always better, depending on the task or the situation that you’re providing that error message or that help text or whatever it may be.  Similarly to headers or buttons as well.  That language should be appropriate for that task, but it can be informal, so that it has a better level of acceptance from the user.

Use the Words and Language of Your User

So, talking about labeling systems this week, and the real trick and challenge with them is actually thinking about your users, and the words and the language that they use.  You’ll get a better labeling system if you bring that language and labeling in, instead of using a companies world or their culture or their cultural labeling systems.  That might be for headers, it might be for buttons – which are calling action through verbs – and it may be through error messages, which have a more informal and softer tone than the old system ‘fatal error’ stuff of the 1990’s and earlier on.  

I’m Frank Spillers and hope to see you next time on a UX Power Up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.



Recent Posts

Scroll to top

Get a quote or discuss your project

Tell us about your project

Arrange a 30 min call

Project in mind?


Fight for the rights of your users. We'll show you how.

Read more articles like this for exclusive insights into the best ways to approach UX and Service Design challenges. Find out when events occur first. Privacy protected, no exceptions.

Subscribing indicates your consent to our Privacy Policy

Should we add you to our email list?

Privacy protected-You can unsubscribe at any time.

Download the Better UX kit