UX writing makes experiences better. Whether you’re designing a product website, an onboarding experience for an app, or a registration flow, the right words can build trust in the brand and get users to convert. The value of UX writing is now widely recognized by design teams, and as a result, UX writers are more in demand than ever before.
But is that really all it takes? If it’s just about the words, you can just bring in a UX writer once the design is finished, have them whip up some copy for the buttons and labels, and start reaping the benefits—right?
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. At Tendo, we’ve always advocated for a content-first approach to give writers and content strategists a voice in the design process, allowing the content to really shine—and eliminating any last-minute surprises when you realize just before launch that your design doesn’t leave room to convey key information to the user. Making your UX writers a part of your design team is a good start, and it’s even better if you can provide a solid content strategy to work from—including all the research, documentation, and foundational work that implies. UX writers are most effective when they have support from both UX designers and content strategists.
The bottom line: Treat UX writers like true collaborators, and they’ll help you create a content experience that users want to return to.
What Is UX Writing and Why Does It Matter?
UX writing is interactive copy that guides the user experience. It includes everything from microcopy (those small bits of text on menus, forms, and buttons) to product-generated emails and longer-form instructional text. Good UX writing is clear, concise, accessible, and appropriate to the brand and context. Most importantly, it guides the user to where they want to go and helps them achieve their top tasks (such as signing up for an account, updating their settings, or completing a purchase). UX writing is a key contributor to the connected, engaging content experiences that content strategists seek to build.
Because UX writing is ideally built into the UX design process, the practice of creating it is sometimes known as content design. Companies like Facebook and Shopify have recently adopted this trendy name for the discipline, which reflects the reality that writers do everything UX designers do: user research, problem solving, design thinking, journey mapping, prototyping, iterating, and all the tasks that go into designing a successful experience.
The difference is that writers do all these things with a laser focus on content. They bring along their background and expertise in language–including content principles and voice and tone best practices–and combine it with a design sensibility to create an experience that (quite literally) speaks to the user.
So how do UX writers work their magic? A lot of people think of writers as lone wolves, typing away in an empty room and producing copy on their own—but this couldn’t be further from the truth. To write successful UX copy, UX writers must be plugged in to every step of the design process. This requires two things: deep context and robust collaboration.
Good UX Writing Needs Context
Have you ever come across UX copy that was completely unhelpful—like the classic “Invalid entry”? Or been annoyed by copy where the tone was completely inappropriate? In both cases, the UX writer was likely lacking context.
- User flow. What function does the copy serve? Is it a headline, a button, a setting, a feature name? What other copy appears with it? When will the user see it? What happens when you click on it?
- User research. Who are your users? What do they want? What do they know? What do they need to know? What are their mental models?
- Documentation. The UX strategy, goals for the copy, explorations, decisions that have been made and the reasons for them are all key to ensuring UX copy is in alignment with the overall strategy. And branding and messaging documents are also important, since the best UX writing bolsters and reinforces the brand voice.
Armed with this information, your UX writers can write copy that’s appropriate to the user, the situation, and the brand—and that supports the goals of the business.
Good UX Writers Find a Seat at the Table
Writing expertise alone won’t magically produce good UX copy, even when it’s grounded in context. Far from being lone wolves, UX writers must collaborate with stakeholders at all levels of the organization and advocate for their work so that designers and developers alike understand the value of clear, conversational copy. This means that the ability to build bridges across disciplines and communicate the value of content is as important to a UX writer as technical skill.
Here are some ways you can help other teams understand what UX writers bring to the table. (And if you’re a UX writer yourself, these tips will help you socialize your work so that it doesn’t go to waste.)
- Document everything. This allows stakeholders to engage with all the thought and planning that went into the UX copy when they critique it, and makes it more likely that the final copy will be effective and well thought out.
- Hold writing and content workshops with the entire team. By doing this, you ensure that the team shares the same vision. It also allows stakeholders to have a say in creating documentation and style guides.
- Make sure stakeholders understand how UX writers work. If you’ve been paying attention, you know by now that UX writers can’t just crank out perfect, context-appropriate copy on demand. They need the right information, and they need the chance to communicate with stakeholders to get everyone on the same page. But not everyone realizes this, so it’s best to let everyone on the team know that writers should be involved in the design process early—and create opportunities to make that happen.
More organizations are starting to recognize the value of UX writing, but it’s hard to know where to start. It takes more than simply hiring or engaging a UX writer to be successful. By providing your UX writers with the necessary context and giving them ample opportunities to collaborate with your team, you’re giving them the tools they need to add value to your product and write copy that keeps users coming back.
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