play nice & make friends with human language

I recently posted about some nice dialog box language I came across and I saw some more today. I’d much rather click on a “Ooh, That Sounds like Fun!” button than one that reads “Register!” That cutesy language, however, might be at the limit for how far it can go without obfuscating the actual purpose of clicking.

The screenshot is from the new Twitter client Tweetie. I debated whether or not I should take the time to post about this nice dialog box but later on in the day I was inspired to whilst attempting to place a reserve on a library item.

MCL OPAC language
I fully realize that I’m being picky and that I’m hyper-aware of this issue, but even though the OPAC asked me to please fill in “ALL” of the info, it almost-but-not-quite-felt like MCL was reprimanding me for not filling something in. It felt more like their choice of message was a lost opportunity to use the situation to make a friend or ally.

Here’s my 3 minute redo which isn’t perfect but does add a nice UX element: an arrow indicating where action is needed.



I love using the Multnomah County Library system. After not being able to place a hold on the above item at all, I chatted with a librarian on L-Net and they told me that the MCL copies were missing and then told me how to get it via Interlibrary Loan.

13 thoughts on “play nice & make friends with human language”

  1. I appreciate this post. You are fair and balanced with Multnomah – and wouldn’t it be wonderful to see more little bits of human connection in the language of all of our library interfaces.

  2. re: cutesy language in interfaces, well, i hate it. it drives me nuts that my bank ATM gives me options like “sure”. its not like “sure” i want my money, its like “YES”, give me my money. now.

  3. @nate –

    yeah, finding a balance between cutesy language and more friendly, human language is not always easy, especially since different people have different tolerances.

  4. @Aaron agreed. it definitely says something about the nature of the users that tweetie (and twitter itself) are engaging that the developers would choose “ooo that sounds fun” for “yes”. makes sense for that situation, despite the growing ‘seriousification’ of twitter. i wonder how people react to a serious tone in a twitter client vs. a casual, playful tone? more importantly for this forum- what do you think a public library’s tone should be with its users?

  5. Continued thought
    I don’t think its always a good idea to use casual language in serious transactions.
    That is what I was getting at w/ the bank thing.
    Is the library an institution that engages in serious transactions, or a casual exchange of information?
    So, in an OPAC situation it might be nice to say something firendly, relaxed, chill…
    But what about collecting fines? What if you get a prompt that says “hey, it’d be awfully nice if you were to throw us some cash for those books you’ve had forever”. Not so good.
    When should we display which personality?
    How do we determine how out users want to be addressed?

  6. @Nate –
    i’d say that language from public libraries should be friendly, human, fun and understandable without being over the top (unless it makes sense to do so).

    the easiest and best way to answer this question, though, would be through some super easy to do user testing, right? have two or three options and see what people respond to most, and what they say they prefer.

  7. @aaron it’d be interesting to do it w/ different user groups though… teens… kids… seniors… and then have separate language for each user group after they’ve signed into their library account…

  8. Cool post. I think the issue you bring up-the casual-ness of the language-is an interesting one. We have been imbuing more and more corporate sites with more casual language, and I have observed that the results are a perceived willingness by users to read instructions and follow prompts.

  9. This is a great post, and I don’t think you’re being too picky. The tone of your revised Multnomah page is far friendlier than their actual page. I think the sum of these small details affects people’s overall experience in a library — or anywhere.

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