James Royal-Lawson


Plain english please!

Plain language is better for usability. Giving things descriptive, clear and to the point labels will help users complete their tasks easier.

We’ve talked for years about the inside-out problem where corporate websites let internal terminology seap through into the information architecture of their external web site.

OK, sometimes it’s perhaps some strained attempt at sub-branding, but in most situations I think it’s more effective to use plain language rather than go through the cost and hassle of inventing and establishing a sub-brand.

SL Access

A little while ago I used one of the ticket machines at a Stockholm metro station to buy a ticket for a visiting relative. This is not something I would normally do, being a season pass holder. Being fluent in Swedish, I wouldn’t normally choose English as the language rather than (the default) Swedish,

Seeing the opportunity to do a bit of on-the-spot usability testing of SL’s ticket machine, I tried to stay out of the process as much as possible – only helping when my relative got stuck, or reached the point of giving up on each screen of options. Yes, each screen. We got stuck a lot. There is no real on-screen help at any point. So as a tourist you have to magically understand different zones, concessions, and numerous other things.

With each screen I was increasingly wondering just who the ticket machines were aimed at? No matter which language you choose – English or Swedish – if you were using the ATM to purchase a ticket then it is likely that you are an occasional user of the transport system or a tourist (as regular users would have period cards). Occasional users need guiding and supporting through the process, nothing can be presumed to have been learned or remembered. The labels and language should be simple and intuitive.

MIFARE standard

Photos showing the mysterious MIFARE standard button

The screen that made me shake my head, and inspired this blog post, was the “Select media type” screen that contained the phrase “MIFARE standard” as an option. Media type? MIFARE standard? We opted for “Paper” by deduction as Back, Cancel, and the mysterious MIFARE didn’t seem like the right options. So Paper it had to be.

But what is MIFARE you ask? A search on SL’s website is no help whatsoever. The term MIFARE isn’t used at all on the entire site. As usual, Google will give you the answer – it’s the contactless technology used in SL’s “Access” smart cards and billions of other smart cards around the world.

Screenshot showing no search results for MIFARE on

Access is the sub-brand created by SL for their smart cards, which given that they have bothered to create a sub-brand, would have been a more sensible option to display on this screen. People just aren’t going to understand what MIFARE Standard is. Not that it will help you, but MIFARE Standard isn’t even the the technology used, it’s actually MIFARE Classic.

Complete lacking of testing

Sadly, despite my ranting above about plain english and sub-branding, I think in this case the problem is down to a complete lack of testing of the Englsh language version. The Swedish version perhaps may not have been tested with real users either, but it does use more sensible language – and in particular doesn’t include the mysterious MIFARE option.

SL introduced a 20kr fee for “Access” smart cards from the 1st of January in an attempt to encourage Stockholmers to reuse and refill their cards more often. Perhaps it would have been more sensible to invest a little more in testing the process and making it a bit more user friendly instead?

Introduction to intranets

Earlier this week a project to write a book called an Introduction to intranets was launched. I’m pleased and excited to be part of the project.

Despite lots of blogs and literature being available about intranets, a number of the printed books are a quite old or aimed at intranet specialists. What about those people wanting to know what an intranet is? what it can do for an organisation? what it entails?

Kristian Norling voiced the idea a few weeks ago in a post on his blog, and within a few days a number of internationally known intranet experts and authors had commented on the post. A number of them even indicated their willingness to help create the book.

It’s not all about “intranet experts” though. As the book is an introduction to intranets, it would be great if this collaborative project could include contributions from intranet responsibles, editors and business managers – anyone who has an experience to share to the intranet community.

The aim is to create a book of around 200 pages and publish it in multiple languages. At the moment we’re planning editions in English and Swedish. It’s also the aim to include as many real-life examples as possible, including screenshots.

Interested in joining in? Head over to the wiki and get started!

No more writing for the web?

Below is a transcript of an exchange between myself and Per Axbom on the Beantin Facebook page earlier this week.

The conversation is in response to this blog post: Why it might be time to stop writing for the web by Tamsin Hemingray at iCrosing.

Interesting post, and I agree with aspects of it – but ultimately I disagree. Yes you should write for your target audience, but when writing for digital channels you have to understand as a writer that your target audience includes the machines that process, index & re-use your carefully written content.


I see your point, and there is a fair bit to say about needed education to understand how to write, or rather: incorporate links, headers, keywords, images , etceteras in a way that optimises the content for the web medium and for the ease of being found using search engines – and of course being easily read on a screen.

She touches briefly on this in the article in the sense that she expects her staff to already possess many of these skills; they are so to say, self-evident. This I do not agree with, this is something that few writers are aware of and the need to be more so.

The part I do agree with the most is that we are focusing too little on the humans we are writing for, in comparison with how many web writing classes there are to just sort out all the technical stuff. There is too little focus also on how the web article fits into the grand scheme of things that the company publishes and distributes and communicates to customers and stakeholders. There is a lot of let’s just push it out, but not much let’s push it out because _this_ is what we want to accomplish.

But ultimately, should writers, historically an artistic breed of humanity, need to adapt to technology and figure all this out in every piece of content they write or should technology in fact adapt to humans?


So we don’t really disagree on this one Per… Yes, she does put a whole load of skills in the “we wouldn’t have hired them if they couldn’t do this already” list – but reality is there are a lot of talented writers out there who are used to the relative freedom “print” gives them compared to digital channels.

Many of the one-day “writing for the web” courses that she is complaining about, probably should be thrown out of the window as they don’t really help writers (and companies) produce content that better meets their goals.

The human/technology relationship is a symbiotic relationship. Both have triggered the evolution of the other. The reality is, that although technology is getting better at dealing with us awkward humans, us humans have to still give a little bit of a helping hand along the way.

Just as language has grammar, the internet has standards (formal and informal). If we follow both, then we end up with a much better user experience – and a higher chance of achieving what we set out to achieve.


Reload this page with responsive web design DISABLED