Written by: Laura Blumenthal

Jargon is so stubborn. As much as I try to erase it from how I speak and write, jargon sneaks back into my sentences without my realizing.

My most recent struggle with jargon was last week when we were brainstorming names for a new program. The program is about testing bold ideas to address people’s non-medical barriers to health and wellness. “Upstream Health?” a person suggested. Pithy, yes, but so cryptic! Do food pantries and housing agencies refer to themselves as “upstream”? It wasn’t easy, but we settled on “Whole Health,” and I’ll let you be the judge of whether it’s any better.

A core value in the social welfare system is accessibility. We talk about how important inclusion and empathy are, and then we use language that is uninviting and exclusionary to describe our work. On more than a couple of occasions now, I’ve heard participants in our Catalyst program say that the vocabulary of design is, itself, an obstacle to broadly applying design practices in their clinics. This is especially true in places where design terminology chafes against lean manufacturing and quality improvement language. It’s more gobbledygook in an already complicated environment. Even radiologists recognize that medical jargon is a problem, especially in efforts to engage patients through things like patient portals.

You know that song, “Everyday People,” by Sly and the Family Stone? One of the lines is, “I am no better and neither are you. We are the same whatever we do.” It’s a helpful reminder of how we’re supposed to connect with each other, personally and professionally. I think we can all agree that we don’t need any more social constructs dividing us, jargon included.

So I’m going to try to make our programs that promote design practices less jargony. Because “synthesis” is really about making sense of what you’re learning, and “iterative prototyping” is about putting your idea in front of people to get quick feedback. Not as pithy an explanation, but maybe more effective?

Improving access is not only about where and with whom we work, it’s about how we communicate. Nothing we teach at CCI is astrophysics (literally!), and systems of people don’t actually require a whole new language or alphabet to make change. So why not use more words for “everyday people”?