UX design is a complex field that encompasses myriad disciplines, including information architecture, interaction design, user-interface design, user research, usability testing, and more. UX professionals working in each specialty must work in concert together to provide a user experience that is as enjoyable for users and as seamless as possible.
One of the most important, but often overlooked aspects of UX design is UX writing. In this article, I’ll discuss the significance of UX writing and share some design strategies for improving UX writing that I’ve personally implemented in my designs, helping users to successfully achieve their goals.
What Is UX Writing?
As depicted in Figure 1, UX writing is the process of constructing copy, or text, for a user interface that the user interacts with directly. Communication is the primary aim of UX writing, specifically, communication with users through the user interface. Although there are many elements of a user interface that communicate with the user, including visual feedback, or micro-animations, text is, more often than not, the primary means of communication with users. One example of UX writing is a confirmation message box, a user interface that asks the user to confirm an action—for example, by asking the user, Do you want to proceed?
Why Is UX Writing Important?
As I mentioned earlier, UX writing is sometimes overlooked within the broader UX design process. However, UX designers who fail to give UX writing its due should be aware of the pitfalls of poor UX writing. More importantly, they should recognize how much stronger good writing can make good UX design. Let’s consider just a few of the reasons why UX writing should be a cornerstone of the UX design process.
Empathizing with Users
UX writing determines the tone of a design’s communication with users, enabling a human connection to form between a user interface and the user. The role of the empathy that you can create through design is not dissimilar to the role it plays in real life: empathy is about understanding the emotions of other people and reflecting their emotions in the way you interact with them. A message as simple as One moment please… can go a long way toward instilling patience in users who are waiting for a process to complete or a screen to load. The same goes for a trust-forming message, such as one that says, Don’t worry, we’ll never share your data with anyone.
Adding a Human Touch
Let’s face it, barring communication apps, the primary purpose of the digital products that UX designers all over the world create is not human communication. UX design usually focuses primarily on interactions between a machine and a human being. UX writing helps bridge the gap between human and machine, forming a bond between them that is far stronger than those that users form with merely mechanical user interfaces. This, in turn, can make users feel more comfortable interacting with the user interfaces you’ve designed and more invested in using them as well, as Figure 2 shows. An excellent example of a design that adds a human touch is the mascot of the DuoLingo language-learning app. This mascot, even though completely mechanized, provides very human encouragement and enthusiasm as users progress through lessons, making the experience of learning a new language more richly engaging.
Driving Engagement and Improving Conversions
UX writing can make a tangible impact on user engagement and conversions as well! A study conducted by Torrey Podmajersky, the author of Strategic Writing for UX, has suggested that users clicked calls to action (CTAs) that comprised two words or fewer significantly more often than CTAs that were longer. Although designers sometimes get carried away in trying to create a friendly, conversational interaction with users, if the end goal of a user interface is conversion, being overly chatty can have an adverse effect. Concise, clear UX writing can center the focus of an entire interaction on a particular goal, making users more productive. A/B testing is a wonderful way in which to experiment with various pieces of UX copy and harness their power to improve engagement.
Communicating Clearly to Create Smoother Interactions
There are many ways in which users communicate with a user interface and vice-versa. Although one could argue that no means of communication is as clear and efficient as UX writing. While reading is something users do all the time, understanding micro-interactions or other interactive methods of communication imposes a greater cognitive load. Therefore, users are far more receptive to feedback that they receive through the medium of text than via any other means of communication. For a real-world example, we need look no further than setting a password for a new account. A red outline on the Password field suggests that the user’s password doesn’t fit the requirements. But without the UX copy that tells the user exactly what’s missing—be it an uppercase character or a number—it would be difficult for the user to create a password that meets all the parameters. Thus, UX writing can smooth user interactions, as shown in Figure 3.
Tips for Better UX Writing
Here are some simple, easy-to-implement UX writing tips that have helped me to elevate my designs, without requiring a big investment of time.
Use Conversational Language
A major goal of UX design is to create products that seem more human. Using technical or robotic language creates a barrier between the user and the experience. The easiest way to circumvent this barrier is to assess a user interface’s UX writing and endeavor to give it a more casual, conversational tone. The popularity of voice assistants has grown immensely in recent years, owing to the conversational nature of their interactions with users. As Figure 4 depicts, using simple, clear, concise language and fighting the tendency to use more words than are necessary for the sake of technical correctness can go a long way in this regard.
Provide Plenty of Context
Perhaps the most important role of UX writing is in forming a connection with the user. Contextualizing every user interaction can be a great tactic for implementing more effective copy. If an application must keep users waiting, tell them why they’re waiting. If users get stuck, help them out by telling them what to do next. While avoiding getting overly technical, you can use copy to ensure that users understand what is happening with the user interface. Provide as much information and context as is necessary for the user to proceed smoothly, as Figure 5 shows.
Make Content Scannable
A repeating theme of this column is to avoid long-form text, which is commonly your enemy in trying to create a friendly user interface. More often than not, users won’t read an entire block of text, but choose to scan it instead. It’s worth studying the F-shaped scanning pattern that studies have revealed is how most people skim long pages of text. This pattern shows that users’ eyes follow the shape of this character when scanning, with their attention most often being on the left. The strategic use of stylized text—such as bold or italics—to highlight key information can draw the user’s eye, without being intrusive.
Reflect Your Brand’s Voice
UX copy can be a great opportunity to expose your target audience to your brand, in a much deeper, more meaningful manner. For example, if you’re designing a financial product, try to reinforce the trust factor of your brand by providing affirmations in your copy. Let’s consider another example: if you’re designing a premium product, every word of your copy should feel opulent and immerse the user further into a high-quality experience.
Although the importance of UX writing sometimes gets overlooked, as the field of User Experience continues to grow, I feel positive that this specialty will also grow. So much is at stake. The worst consequence of the use of poor UX copy is losing credibility with the user. Therefore, every UX designer should not only be comfortable with writing appropriate UX copy but a master of UX writing. As you improve your UX writing skills, you’ll see the benefits of good copy—both tangible and intangible—start to emerge. You can make users more comfortable by providing excellent copy to guide them along the way.
Manik was introduced to design when he was building Placesso, a ride-sharing platform based on Facebook’s social graph. While they never launched the platform, the experience taught Manik a lot about design and development. Since then, he has stayed with design. He and his friends began spending a lot of time discussing the designs of newly launched apps, exploring ways to improve their user experience. They felt really badly about people using poor designs so, in 2014, launched Ketchup Designs Studio. In 2015, they changed the name to Onething Design. Since then, they’ve helped a lot of businesses design products people love to use. Read More