Acronyms are NOT good usability

An article about sending pictures on a cell phone amused me.

"...the phone menus use the term MMS, which is unfamiliar to consumers...."

Just so I don't commit the same sin, MMS stands for MultiMedia Messages, better known as pictures. The users also hated the terrible menus.

Maybe it's because my first job out of college was a technical writing job, but I have always thought it was axiomatic that acronyms are terrible usability. Recognition is much easier than recall: you recognize faces, you recall names. Which are you better at?

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Saturday, November 30, 2002 (Link)


Posted by Joshua Kaufman Monday, December 2, 2002 at 01:05 PM

Well thank goodness for the acronym element ( ) and the title attribute ( ), which allow you to do cool stuff like this:

<acronym title="Cascading Style Sheets">CSS</acronym>

Posted by dan Wednesday, December 4, 2002 at 02:08 PM

If I didn't know better...I'd swear Josh was mocking you man.

Posted by tom Monday, December 9, 2002 at 07:10 AM

Good usability for whom?

Acronymns are great usability for those writing them (or those reading them who know what they mean).

Abbreviating things is something humans just do, IMHO, we can't help it.

What is poor however is that computer software takes no account of the user, or the context and so can easily inform any user who needs to know what an acronym means.

Posted by Chad Lundgren Monday, December 9, 2002 at 10:31 AM

Your point in general is solid, but I think reaching the widest possible audience is relevant to this audience of phone users. Acronyms, like accelerators for experienced users, can be a good thing if used judiciously.

One thing I think worth pointing out is that acronyms exclude people. Probably not intentionally, but the effect exists nonetheless. Computer people are not unique in this, but are among the worst. Nor are all neccesary: when installing my new computer, one of the reviews of motherboards at Tom's HardWare mentioned an acronym for one board was memorable and short, implying the others weren't.

I use correct acronym use as one marker of technical competence.