Giving UX writing a seat at the design table
Effective UX writing can turn a good user experience into a great one.
Every relationship is shaped by words. Often, words are the tipping point between becoming friends, staying acquaintances, or walking away from one another forever; one wrong word and everything can change. It’s the same for your product.
The words in your product often catalyze that “tipping point” for your users. An incomprehensible error message or a tone-deaf confirmation modal can be a deal-breaking moment for users.
Your team should spend as much time perfecting the UX copy as you do perfecting the design.
Whether you have a team of writers or a single do-it-all copywriter, carving out a workflow for effective UX writing can turn a good user experience into a great one. Here are some tips on collaborating with copywriters:
Include copywriters in your workflow
To give your users the best possible experience with your product, design and copy need to be integrated. Without a clear workflow, you might miss crucial opportunities to educate your users or create a moment of delight.
1. Leverage existing content to avoid duplicating work
If you want to make fast friends with a copywriter, read and capitalize upon what they’ve already written. When you need to create new content, start with a quick search of your blog, Help Center, support macros, and Dropbox or Google Drive team folders. Then, draft suggested copy based on what exists and pass that to the UX writer. When the first draft is anchored in pre-approved messaging, the process will be more efficient and fruitful.
2. Share all necessary context
Writers won’t be successful in a vacuum, so give them all the relevant details around the project (the sooner, the better). That includes context in the form of project plans, JIRA tickets, user journey flows, and including them in meetings (even if just to be a fly on the wall). With this information, a UX writer will better understand your goals, the problems/challenges a user might be experiencing, and how copy can clarify, reassure, and ultimately set the user up for success.
3. Communicate constraints
Just like a good design brief, sharing character or word count limits, line restrictions, and other guidelines upfront can significantly cut down on the inevitable back-and-forth. Also, articulating why these constraints exist will give the copywriter insight into your design process. Bonus: you’ll build mutual respect for each other’s craft along the way.
4. Request a review (the earlier, the better)
Words are core to the UX design process. I generally encourage looping in copywriters early and getting their final sign-off before calling it a day.
Use tools of the copywriters’ trade
Writers know that the language you use can get someone excited to explore deeper, help them overcome a difficult learning moment, and encourage them to keep coming back. Even if you’re not the designated UX copywriter on your team, you can still put thought into how design and copy combine to communicate a consistent message.
1. Follow brand guidelines
When your users feel they understand your brand and know what to expect from you, you’ve earned their trust. And trust is the best form of currency. If your users encounter a problem, or something feels more difficult to accomplish than they originally expected, their level of trust in your brand will become a deciding factor in whether they keep trying or abandon your product.
Your team’s copywriters may already have a writing style guide outlining the voice, tone, and rules writers adhere to every day at your company. This copy style guide is writers’ equivalent to design style guides, templates, and libraries.
Writing style guides should answer questions about your brand’s preferences in:
- Voice and tone
- Grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules
- Word choice (e.g. preferred or banned words)
- Content styling, formatting, and length
- Other hard requirements for user-facing copy
Reading over the copy style guide and keeping those content attributes in mind will help you collaborate with your team’s UX writing specialist. The copywriter works with these guidelines every day, so let them step in if you’re feeling stumped on which words to use.
2. Advocate for plain, active language
Be clear and direct with users. If you talk your way around a point, confusing users about which path to take, you risk turning them off your product.
Plain language does not require you to be boring; you can have fun and be clear. According to plainlanguage.gov, if your users can easily:
- find what they need,
- understand what they find, and
- use what they find to meet their needs
then you have successfully communicated using plain language. A skilled writer can accomplish these goals without destroying the personality of their text (or using obtusely long sentences).
3. Mind language and cultural differences
While you might already think you’re using plain and active language, consider that what is plain to one audience may not be plain to another. I suggest avoiding colloquialisms, regional slang, difficult verb tenses, and complex sentence structures that a non-native speaker may struggle through.
Every word in your product matters
At the end of the day, we all work in the service of the user. Collaborating with experts across a variety of functions in your company is the key to building experiences that are worth writing home (or on Medium…) about.