Michael Gaigg: Über UI/UX Design

2Aug0

Esri listens to their Users and changes Pronunciation of its Name

Esri Emblem

Esri Emblem


This is big!

Background

And here is why: ESRI, a privately held company with more than 2700 employees, was founded in 1969, over 40 years ago. The company name is an abbreviation for Environmental Systems Research Institute and therefore

not pronounced as a word but as distinct letters similar to IBM, SAP and other software companies with an acronym based name. It is thought within the GIS (Geographical Information Systems) circles, and even joked that 'old' users prefer E-S-R-I, while novice users use the 'ez-ree' pronunciation.

(from wikipedia, March 2010, which has its own section called "Pronunciation of company name").

Insides and Myths

Over time a divide elapsed, employees were proud to pronounce their company name E-S-R-I and by doing so showing they are insiders and distinguishing themselves from the 'newbies'. It became part of company culture and identity.

Rumor has it that the first week of orientation for new employees is to train them to say "E - S - R - I" spelled out instead of trying to pronounce it as a word (ez-ree), though I cannot personally confirm this. There's also been a rumor of Jack Dangermond [the presiding of ESRI] having a version of the "swear jar" on his desk, and anytime someone says "ez-ree" they have to put a dollar in.

Confusion

Around the world users were confused. While it seemed to be natural to pronounce the company name ez-ree, users found themselves being corrected and lectured: "It's not ez-ree, it's E-S-R-I". Hearing "It hurts me to say "ezree". =)" from employees were not uncommon.

Forum threads tried to shed light on the ongoing discussion and various sides were quick to elaborate about the correct pronunciation in (mostly humorous) detail, e.g.

  • Here in San Antonio, my new home, it is pronounced "ess-ray y'all".
  • In austria we say: äsri
  • When I'm in a hurry- I say 'eS-ree', and when I'm trying to sound sophisticated and smart I say 'E-S-R-I'. Isn't that the way it always works?
  • As for ESRI or esree I have always called it EE ESS ARE EYE.
  • Lately I've noticed that people, who aren't sure of what they are talking about, pronouce it 'Uhh, [pause] Ezree' or '[PAUSE] Eszree'. The pause before gives it away...
  • Canadian pronunciation: ez-ree-eh?, or ee-ess-arr-eye-eh?
  • One thing I've noticed, though, is that the tendency to elide sounds has some people pronouncing E-S-R-I rather like yes-are-eye (without the y). Will the next step in this evolution be yes-rye? (Then the only question will be Do you want that with mustard?)
  • Down Under we say 'Bloody ezree' when things go ferral.

Change and Resistance

To the surprise of many employees an internal notice from 3/19/2010 read:

[...] we will be transitioning the pronunciation of ESRI to “ezree.” This effort will ensure a consistent name recognition around the world.

What followed was a big uproar from the employees side. Many of us felt robbed of our identity and culture. What seemed to work well for over 40 years should not be changed and trashed that easily!

Success

As it turned out, after merrily 4 months and a hugely successful User Conference with almost 14.000 people (the biggest gathering of GIS professionals ever) the name change was perceived as a relief by the user community. A sense of unity was felt, finally we speak the same language, the confusion was lifted, no more lecturing, no more division between insiders and outsiders, everybody became part of the family.

Esri stepped into icy waters and in risk of p***ing some of its own employees off it opened a new world of opportunities by Speaking the Language of Its Users - I'm loving it!!

What do you think?

Have you ever heard of a comparable change / step taken? Could you imaging IBM spelled Ei-bm?

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Posted by Michael Gaigg

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