UX writing, the best for emotional design
UX writing is about the reader and emotional design is the pillar of good UX writing. It’s easy, bad writing slaps you in the face, good writing goes unnoticed.
What is UX writing?
UX writing can be mistaken with copywriting, but the purposes are different: UX writing intends to guide the user through the interface intuitively. The goal of the UX writer is to maximize the usability of the product with the user experience plan in mind. Great UX content meets business and consumer goals, and UX writing is part of building towards that goal.
In her exceptional talk, Strategic Writing for UX, Torrey Podmajersky tells us about the cycle around products, whether from the business or the people’s perspective. Businesswise, the sequence develops in the following subparts:
Attract: You need people to get to know about your product or service.
Convert: Here is the hook, what value can you give to your customers?
Onboarding: The first impression you will give to your users.
Engage: Keep people interested in your product. You have to deliver your promises.
Bugs and issues: If something breaks, you have to give support—which will happen, even if you try your best not to.
Transform: Get repeat customers, sell a new version, captivate the people.
From the point of view of the people, you might experience something like this:
Research: You have been here, where you consume ads, articles, outreach emails, product pages, tweets and posts. Here is where you discover new products.
Verify: Something caught your eye, so you start checking what others say. You might look at endorsements, reviews, product ratings, sales collateral, and so on.
Commit: The hard part, making the big decision, be it subscribing, buying, or downloading an app.
Set up: You start interacting with the product, be it reading get-started guides, first-runs, or how-tos.
Use: This part might be invisible as a user, but you constantly interact with alerts, titles, buttons, descriptions. You are experiencing content firsthand.
The part no one wants to be in: the product breaks, and you need a fix. You will face troubleshooting, error messages, and alerts.
Prefer: Why do you stay with this product? It may offer you some side advantages or perks as badges, profile ratings, forums, training, conferences, and more.
Champion: You got to love the product, so you want to share it with friends, family, and colleagues.
Writing specifics: usability & voice
Okay, you might say, but what does all of this have to do with UX writing? Well, thanks to UX writing, you will be able to tell the difference between good, predictable interactions and a complete mess with intricate wording and inconsistent references. With all this structure in mind, it is possible to predict if UX content will fulfill its purpose. That is how you recognize if it’s any good.
UX design builds upon the heuristics set by the Norman and Nielsen group. Necessarily UX writing does the same by separating into two categories: Usability and Voice.
Usability refers to the ease of key behaviors, even for beginners. UX writers don’t want to make things more complicated for the user. The higher the barrier of entry, the fewer potential customers you will get. Usability presents a set of essential factors:
Accessible: How easily your writing communicates. Every element should have the potential to be spoken and heard; should be available in the languages people use; should be written at a reading level below 7th grade (usual consumer) or 10th grade (professional).
Purposeful: Organizational and users goals should always be met with priority.
Concise: Keep it down to relevant information only. Don’t go longer than 50 characters or more than three lines. A bloated product is confusing.
Conversational: This does not necessarily mean casual, rather a mimic of a conversation where we set a given pace and use words, ideas, and concepts people are familiar with.
Clear: Actions should have evident results. One word equals one meaning. Avoid technical jargon; the same term should always correlate to the same concept. Check the content and see if it is consistent.
Voice is not a concept that needs explanation. Keep it consistent and recognizable. You can take some of these into account:
Concepts: Reinforce concepts and define them ahead of time.
Vocabulary: Choose it deliberately. Is it the same to call people customers, citizens, users, humans, players? What do you want to call them?
Verbosity: I know I said concise, clear, and to the point, but sometimes you need details. When a person has to make a calculated decision, a long and elaborate text might make them pay more attention. Use this resource sparsely.
Grammar: Reinforcing the point above, use scary words to signal scary things. “Danger” is not the same as “Alert”. Understand your wording and justify it.
Punctuation and capitalization: Periods and exclamation marks are appropriate in instant messaging. Why not in UX writing?
Recognize a UX writer
UX writers usually present a mastery of the language, the capacity to rearrange words in a sentence, and excellent grammar skills. They will always try different ways of saying the same. Other key features you want to look for are empathy for users, collaboration, and persistence.
As UX writing is sort of a new concept—known as such, at least—,the careers of UX writers have most likely been diverse in the past, except no one knew it yet: technical and marketing writers, school teachers, lecturers and professors, journalists, designers, database analysts, or support agents, among others.
They have probably built their UX writing experience on the job by working freelance in a company, maybe even under another job title. Nowadays, there are plenty of ways to develop UX writing skills, whether with in-person or remote classes, training, and online challenges and communities. Designers and UX writers alike benefit from building a portfolio to demonstrate the skill set and experience.
UX writing meets emotional design
UX writers always work with their job title in mind: it’s all about the user experience. We use words to guide, educate and explain. We often do translation work by transforming the language or breaking down the technical jargon into understandable human day-to-day speech. Usability and accessibility not only take different languages into account. We have to provide alternative text, and every bit of content must be available for listening and speaking as we must consider the visually impaired.
UX writers spend most of their time obsessing with words, as the vocabulary used can convey a wide range of emotions. Every sentence has to be thought of according to what we want the user to feel. That is the core of emotional design. As Don Norman states in his book, we must consider how people think, choose and act. To communicate correctly through writing, we have to consider the emotionality and understandability of our words.
UX writing is all about the reader. The more work you put into it, the less the human on the other side has to do. A clear sentence that conveys emotion while staying explanatory and functional is what we strive for. Language is all over the place on your product or service. Writers work to make it as seamless as possible. It’s easy: bad writing slaps you in the face, good writing goes unnoticed.
Mobile-first approach: writing for the many
It is no longer a surprise that most people use phones more than desktop computers, as long as they can afford them. This global trend created a whole new market and expanded the internet to many more hands than before. Apps, ecommerce, and social media rely on mobiles, so you might want to build on a mobile-first approach too.
We have already talked about designing for mobile, be it for UX or UI, and within those two categories exists UX writing. While user experience is part of its name, UX writing works on both levels, as it will ensure the quality of the text presented to the users. This form of writing relies on having a clear, concise, and conversational voice—a set of qualities tightly related to mobile.
The expansion of the mobile market also implies a great variety of people reaching your product. With the development of cheap devices, more and more individuals gain access to the internet. That is something to consider when developing a tone of voice, as you would have to plan for a diverse audience. You also have to consider people that don’t speak English. For instance, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the US, so providing translation for non-native speakers is crucial. Y a nadie le gusta no entender lo que le están diciendo.
A mobile-first approach in UX writing implies considering a larger and more diverse audience with a growing need for clarity, consistency, and a willingness to start a conversation with the users at the center.
Goals of usability testing: test your words
When combining UX writing with the goals of usability testing, you get a powerful mix. Knowing how to tinker with words and present a straightforward sentence might be a superpower. Brushing up intricate copy can go a long way. You wouldn't want an unclear sentence to be lost in translation.
You might think that everyone that speaks your same language actually speaks your same language, but that is simply not true. Let me break it down for you. Everyone lives in their own bubble, whether acknowledged or not—a small group of people sharing any given vocabulary. You probably spend most of your time at work or with friends and family, and you probably noticed the differences in communication. An easy example: my sister is studying medicine, and when talking to my father, who is also a doctor, a stream of technical jargon flows around the dinner table, leaving outsiders astonished. You maybe catch a bone or two, literally.
Understanding this is crucial for UX writing, as talking to users and using their language is a must in your product or service. There is no value in imposing jargon and technical writing. People will run away to where they feel understood and comfortable. It is true for conversations, so why wouldn’t it be for a product? This is why testing your writing is key. Putting out different versions of your copy can help you decide which one you choose and what to lose. Metrics will hold UX writing accountable. If the text is unclear, error messages are obscure, or how-tos are not explanatory, you will see it reflected in your testing.
At Awkbit, we thrive on UX and copywriting. With the support of our UX and UI designers and insight into usability testing, we strive for a conversational tone and a friendly voice. Do you need help with your copy? Could you benefit from UX writing?