It’s New Year’s Eve and thus a fitting day to post my list of the top buzzwords (or words I have come to despise) for 2013. I don’t do this every year, but may make it a tradition as it seems each year certain words are used in new ways and quickly become cliches. The last time I posted on this topic was 2011:

 Buzzwords, the value proposition of words and how to leverage your language

So what do buzzwords have to do with UX – the primary subject I cover on this site? Well, I write a lot about communication because, like design, it is an art. And, design is a form of communication. I also write a lot about communicating design, helping users understand design. Buzzwords are the opposite of good communication. If language is a tool, buzzwords act to dull the blade or point of that tool. They are essentially words that eventually lose their meaning as a result of overuse and mass application. They are the epitome of language in many respects.

So in the spirit of New Year’s Eve, here is my list


This might be the worst offender of the year. There are a plethora of new books on the topic if you care to search Amazon. This is term that means nothing more than “innovative” meant a few years back. It seems these buzzwords go in cycles and really say the same thing. A disruptive classroom, a disruptive technology and disruptive program – these only mean a new way of doing something or perhaps an inventive or novel approach. Why can’t we just say what we mean instead of misusing words or reassigning their meaning?


Hang around on Fast Company or Forbes long enough and you will come across articles talking about employee engagement. According to popular business sources, it is to blame for poor customer service, low pay, low profit – Forbes even compiled a list of top 10 cities with the highest employee engagement. How they measured that across a nation is beyond me and truly suspect. You can find an equal number of articles on disengagement. This is classic good versus evil. Engagement is the messiah and disengagement the demon. Were we to truly engage employees in organizations, we are led to believe business would soar and the economy would obtain the healing factor of Wolverine. What’s amazing is most of these articles do nothing to explain what engagement entails. And thus it becomes a meaningless term.

Critical Mass


“the minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture”

Uh, how about we just say “enough” – as in “we have enough customers to launch product B?” Critical mass is overly dramatic – especially considering its alternate definition:

“the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction”

You’re a douche if you use this in a business meeting.

Brand / Branding

This one has been around for a few years. It’s one of those terms that encompasses a lot of different entities. It’s also so overused, no one really knows what it means to “brand yourself” anymore. It used to simply refer to products and companies who developed those products. Now it refers to reputation and public image as well. It’s funny when you think about branding cattle – where the term comes from. It meant you belonged to something (or someone). That’s very different from how it is used today.


It’s still out there. This one won’t die. Type “innovation” into Amazon on a search for books. More than 63,000 books. Are you kidding me? Oh yeah, and here’s one that makes my stomach turn: “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” That’s two buzzwords in a single title! Indeed.


Creative potential, foster your creativity and even a list of creative soccer players when you type this term into Google News? This term is no longer used according to the word’s meaning. It’s become a person or celebrity in the way it is used in some headlines like “Creativity’s role in —-” Everyone is writing about enhancing or fostering or how creativity in brushing your teeth can improve your racket ball game.

I’ll pass.


There is a utility – a usability – to words that diminishes when we overuse them and “over apply” them. Language is both an art and what makes us so efficient as animals. When we dull the knife that is our tool for navigating the world, no one is the better for it. We only take something from efficient to inefficient. And all in the space of a year…

I’ve had enough for this year. But, I’m not optimistic enough to hypothesize I won’t be able to come up with a new list next year at this time. We should reach critical mass by the end of next year, which will foster my creativity spawning a disruptive innovative post as I once again engage the topic.

Feature Photo by Natalie Roberts

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