Why is everyone talking about UX writing?

17 February 2020 • UX design

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Industry is increasingly familiar with the term ‘UX’, short hand for ‘user experience’ and an essential part of the design process

But what exactly is ‘UX writing?’ And why has it recently become such an important topic in the world of digital design?

What is UX? 

UX or ‘user experience’ could be defined as “a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency.” (Source)

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So what is UX writing? 

In the context of User Interface (UI) design, UX writing is defined as “the practice of crafting UI copy that guides users within a product and helps them interact with it. UI copy includes buttons and menu labels, error messages, security notes, terms and conditions, as well as any instructions on product usage.” (Source).

Yuval Keshtcher, writing for CareerFoundry describes UX writing as “the art of crafting the texts that appear throughout the interface of digital products (websites, mobile apps, etc.). 

“Just as in the world of traditional publishing, this text is referred to as copy. But UX writing differs from copywriting in that it aims to guide the user through the interface in an intuitive manner.”

UX writing – and UX writers themselves – are a relatively new thing. It was only a few months ago that it was even identified as one of the up and coming top UX trends for 2019.

But as the apps and websites we use become increasingly more complex to use, with additional and often new functionality, so we, as users, need careful guidance, in a consistent brand voice, in order to navigate them with ease.

What’s the main aim of UX writing? 

Nick Babich from Medium sees the primary aim of UX writing “to settle communication between users and a digital product.”

Kaila Lee from Inside Design goes further: “Good UX writing marries design and written language; great UX writing makes them indivisible.”

If you think for a moment to the last 404 error page you hit. Did it annoy you – or did the friendly and on brand messaging make you smile? And more importantly forgive the site for having lost the page you were looking for? 

See also →  4 design features to improve genuine connections with customers

Because that messaging was written by a UX writer. And it’s their job to create content that is both concise and informative, as well as appropriate, engaging and on brand.

Is a UX writer the same as a copywriter? 

UX writers may well be current or former copywriters. But there is a subtle but important difference. A copywriter might well be employed to help sell – in the broadest sense – a product, service or idea. 

Whereas a UX writer has to help craft content – or microcopy – found throughout a digital product with the specific intent of engaging the user. And to do this effectively, they need to understand both the user and the product and how it is intended that one interacts with the other. 

Yuval Keshtcher sees the role of the UX writer as critical to the success of a digital product: 

“UX writers are essentially product designers who are part of the product design team and help create the website, app, or feature from the outset. They’re part of the team that decides which features to add to the digital product. 

“Some would say the UX writer is the most creative position on the team as they use that creativity to find solutions to problems the end-user would potentially face.”

Should UX writing be part of the design process? 

When it comes to the user interface design process, it is all too tempting to see it as something of linear progression – using a waterfall rather than agile methodology – whereby the product is designed first before a copywriter is employed to think about the content to apply to it afterwards.

However, the danger of this linear approach is that it can often overlook critical UI issues, which then go unnoticed until much later on in the product development process. 

This is why UI text should be written much earlier on in the whole process. 

Babich strongly advises that teams “Work on text early because text problems often reveal design problems.”

He goes on to suggest that “Professional UX writers should work together with software developers and designers on crafting UI text.

“As a part of this activity, they often ask product team to explain design decisions. If a team has trouble explaining a design, quite often it is the design, not the text copy, that needs improving.”

Important considerations when writing effective UX text 

Crafting effective UX text which is both concise and informative as well as engaging and on brand is no easy task. 

We have come a long way from the Dos error messages that used to fill our hearts with dread when using computers more than 20 years ago.

Nowadays, a positive user experience is one where the messaging threaded through the product is both friendly and accessible, aiming to enhance the overall user experience rather than ruin it.

So what are some of most important considerations when creating effective UX text? Here are some useful tips to start you off:

  • Be succinct – think efficiency rather than brevity. Can you say what you need to in a more concise way?
  • Create text you can scan – write in short not long blocks of text
  • Put the most important text first – ‘click on item to see full description’ is better than ‘to see full description, click on item’
  • Keep your copy consistent – be consistent with the words you use for each stage of a process, rather than using several synonyms, which can cause confusion
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms – if it is possible to use a word or phrase in full, do so. Technical jargon is off putting
  • Use an active rather than passive voice – for example, ‘click on item to see full description’ rather than ‘if you click on the search button you can see the full description of the item’
  • Use numerals rather than words – ‘you have 3 saved items’ rather than ‘you have three saved items’
  • Beware of using humour – it’s funny the first time but when you use an app on a regular basis, that initial response can quickly be replaced with irritation. Keep humour on brand
  • Use graphics alongside content – there are times when graphics can help explain a process far more simply than words. Consider Ikea instructions for example – they now issue assembly instructions with line drawings in place of instructions written in 20 different languages. Saving trees. And time.
See also →  How to design Calls to Action that convert into sales

Why do I need a UX writer for my design process? 

Yuval Keshtcher, from CareerFoundry sums up the important of having a UX writer as an integral part of the design process:

“Finally, in a more philosophical sense, UX writers must fight for their users. So whenever a designer, developer, or product manager suggests something that might be unclear to the user, the UX writer must stand up and say how that feature, task, or project can and should be communicated more clearly.

In the world of product design, getting a UX writer is like when you got your first smartphone; you never understood how much you needed one until you had the chance to work with a talented UX writer.”

If you’d like to discuss the UX writing for your product or service, please contact us for an informal chat.

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