When design & copywriting collide
Have you ever thrown yourself into researching a topic so hard your head spins? Well, it happened to me. Recently, I adopted the pleasurable task of studying UX writing. As I set off on the long road to learn this specialisation, the metaphorical mountain of new information in front of me was looming. Imagine the delight in my eyes when I discovered that copywriting and UX design have much more in common than it first seems. In fact, there is a whole specialisation of copywriting that plays with many of the same elements and skills of a UX designer. A brave new world of UX Writing.
Ux writer, content designer, product copywriter; there are many names to describe this particular field. Many people think that UX writing sounds super easy. How hard can it be to place a few choice words on a website? Very hard it turns out. As I understood more about UX design and writing, the more I realised how hard it was. UX copy is different from blog posts and long-form think pieces and raised unique challenges that employ both the writer and the design thinker in me. I was in love.
What is UX writing?
At its core, UX writing is the creation of a written copy to be applied to user interfaces. The chosen words have to tow the fine line of being the voice of a company, while simultaneously providing distilled and considered information to the user. It is one of the main communication points alongside the design language of the interface.
Take a look at this great example from Dollar Shave Club. They stay true to their unique brand while maintaining clarity of voice and throwing in a little humour. Notice the Queen reference. It conveys a touch of personality without interfering with the message. Clarity is always the most important aspect of a page built to convert customers, yet UX writing is about being aware of an opportunity to differentiate your brand from others, while still maintaining balance.
Obviously, a high level of writing skill is a must. Not only must you have the ability to write exceptional pieces, but you must also be able to explain why the words were chosen.
Here is an excerpt from a Senior UX Writer position advert at Disney;
“Our Ideal Senior UX Writer is…
able to think and write holistically across the Disney+ experience, and also zoom in and add meaning to the smallest detail”
From my research and my time surrounding myself in the UX writing ecosystem, here are some of the most important things I’ve learned that go a long way to making the best UX copy.
Clarity & consideration
UX copy has to speak to the user from behind the screen, often with very little space to flourish. With regular longer-form text, you have space to express yourself in a variety of ways using whatever colourful language you please. UX writing is different in that often space is very limited, therefore the importance of being clear and concise is amplified. You must use the words that express exactly what you mean, not something similar. If a word does not need to be there it must be taken away. It is a much harder skill than you might think to be able to convey a message in its purest form. Ambiguity is the enemy of UX copy. Its goal is to inform and instruct the user, not confuse them.
Design thinking is a design philosophy iterative in nature. The designer attempts to understand the user, redefine problems and challenge assumptions, with the ultimate goal of creating solutions that may not have been initially clear at the start. This philosophy is applicable to UX writing. The best copy is made from a deep understanding of the target user, developing empathy with them and reframing their problems in human-centric ways.
There are patterns throughout UX writing on UI’s make the user feel comfortable. Aspects such as terminology, tone and language must all be in regulated to instil a coherent brand tone. Keeping language consistent across your product improves familiarity with the user. This familiarity is a big part of why they will turn int repeat users.
Although you do not need to become a master at digital design, it is a huge advantage to be competent at the most commonly used apps. The design of a product is symbiotic with the copy. The features of the design will affect the tone, voice and flow of the copy dramatically. Understanding design software will help you work with these effects, not against them.
Ux writing is a team game. Effective UX copy is made from ‘first stage’ collaboration between the designers and writers, not tacked on the end in a rush when the product is done. Writing for a product without context is almost impossible. That contact arrises from collaboration.
UX writing is a fast-growing specialisation. Design companies are beginning to understand that great user experiences come from the carefully created copy as well as the great design. A product’s design is what draws people in, the copy is what converts them to users, in perfect synergy.
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