UX torture: meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites

As UX designers tasked with creating things that make life easier rather than harder, we test our grand ideas with four questions:

  1. Is it usable?
  2. Is it equitable?
  3. Is it enjoyable?
  4. Is it useful?

Clearly no one did that when the cabal of language designers (aka Culture) worked on the words meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites.

If we really want to distinguish rocks in space (meteoroids), rocks from space that burn up in the atmosphere (meteors), and rocks from space that land on Earth (meteorites), then I would humbly suggest that Culture stop surfing the internet and invest more time in the user experience process.

But where? If we are adherents of the five-step design thinking framework for UX (mnemonic: EDIPT, or EDIT with a P before T), our options are:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

I suspect Culture understands the people facing the challenge and what they’re feeling: Humans need ways to deal with reality or they experience severe discomfort, and words are handy for that. Empathize, check.

I imagine Culture specified the problem pretty well: In order to respond to threats and opportunities, humans need a quick way to explain the relationship between things in outer space and the planet. Define, check.

All right, stop right there. It’s time to ideate. Out of all the solutions Culture pondered, are you telling me the same word with slight variations on the end is the best it could come up with to describe different types of space rocks? After more than four decades of using English, I still cannot consistently remember the difference between meteoroid, meteor, and meteorite.

Can we please fix this? As an alternative that still hangs onto the base word of “meteor,” why don’t we try:

  • Spacemeteor
  • Skymeteor
  • Groundmeteor

Here’s why this albeit clunky and imperfect solution is still better:

  • Using the same base word (meteor) — indicating the three words are related as the flawed initial language product did — is useful for understanding this particular type of rock.
  • Using non-jargony, easy-to-understand words to precede the base word (space, sky, ground) makes it simple to visualize the different subtypes of this rock. Compare those options with “ite” and “oid.”
  • Putting the descriptive elements of the word at the front is a better way to position the most relevant and distinct information. This is the same principle as SEO: Google likes it when the most relevant words of an article start a headline.
  • It works well with our primacy bias (we tend to notice things we first experience more than the last things). And the the last part of the word — which relates to recency bias (we tend to notice the most recent things we’ve encountered more than others) — has a pattern of using the same word, so we know it’s the first part of the word that is doing the important work.

Now, where do I submit this? I’d like to before anyone mentions the word “asteroid” to me.

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