Press Release

When Words Fail You, Stop Using Them

CEO and co-founder of Studio XID Korea Inc, Tony Kim, on communication issues and how language isn't always the answer

ProtoPieApril 19, 2021
when words fail you stop using them thumbnail

The original content was for Little Black Book in joint with Zerotrillion and republished with permission.

CEO and Co-founder of ProtoPie Tony Kim
Tony Kim is the CEO and co-founder of Studio XID Korea Inc., the company behind award-winning prototyping tool ProtoPie.

Tony jumpstarted his design career at Naver, Korea's own counterpart of Google, where he was the UX team manager and senior designer leading major projects in both Seoul, Korea and Beijing, China. Later on, he moved to Google, where he played a major role in designing new digital products for Google Search aimed at a global audience. After being at Google for almost half a decade, he decided to start a company of his own fulfilling his dream of making the easiest highly interactive prototyping tool that would empower digital product designers all over the world.

Here, Tony discusses the issues of communication and how language isn't always the answer.

I can't speak. Well, not all the time at least. Sometimes I find it difficult to express myself...I'm in between what I want to say and what I’m actually saying. For example, in Korean, we have a word, 눈치 – Noon-chi, which I can’t translate. The best I can do is say that it’s a description of the ability to be in touch with someone’s feelings. Which sounds, one, very clunky in English, and two, a lot like empathy. But it isn’t empathy, and unless you know Korean, I can't fully explain the emotion of the word. It just doesn’t come across the same. I’m sure you have something similar in your own language; words that aren’t translatable. Words that, no matter how hard you try, people outside your culture just can’t understand. And this is just with a simple word. Now imagine communicating an idea. Something as rich and complex as that. How can we possibly find the words to adequately express an idea? Maybe we can’t. Think of all the beautiful ideas that haven’t come to life just because you couldn’t describe them.

Let me give you a personal example. At the start of my career, I was a designer at Google, Korea. I typically communicated my ideas to different international teams. But I frequently had communication issues where one team took my idea one way, and another took it a different way. I was left in between the two, and not sure how to clear up the confusion. I couldn’t communicate, not efficiently anyways. I tried everything. I thought it was an issue with my English - that because I wasn’t a native speaker, my ideas weren’t understandable. So, I went to my colleagues in Korea and asked for help finding more descriptive English words. I actually tried the thesaurus and the dictionary, searching for words to better express myself, and came up short. Eventually, I realised that I was trying to solve my communication problem with language, but what if the problem was, in fact, language?

You know the term full professional proficiency, right? Essentially, it means I can work in a language that isn't my native language. So, for example, I’m writing this in English, my second language. So that’s full professional proficiency, right? Well, sort of. I may use English every day, but regardless of how proficient I am, I still have difficulty expressing my ideas to my colleagues. Why? Because, language isn’t always the solution to communication problems.

I’m in the business of ideas, and what I’ve learned is that the ideas we have in our head are high-fidelity. They are multi-dimensional. We don’t just see ideas. We smell them, touch them, and imagine them in their entirety. We have ideas that words can’t express. The only way to be sure ideas are communicated - and communicated well - is to visualise them. Because when we imagine ideas, they aren’t one-dimensional like language, they’re visual. It’s why I rely so heavily on prototyping; it stops me from becoming lost in translation and helps me communicate my ideas in a tangible way. It’s not abstract and it leaves nothing to external interpretation.

For an idea to live, it can’t just be heard; it has to be seen, touched, interacted with, built upon, and fully developed. Because words fail us and they always will. Ideas are more than sentences and grammar. To clearly communicate ideas we need a universal language that everyone will understand - an interactive visual language. One based on prototyping. If you want to truly see your idea live, not just outside of your head, but in the hands of others, prototype it. Then it will speak for itself.