5 things UI designers can learn from UX writers

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Seen as the unicorn skill for designers, good writing is a sought-after craft. Use a content-first approach to refine your design.

8 min read

Microcopy in UI design by Vered Bloch

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Some might say UI design is all about the visuals, but is it really the only aspect you should care about?

Obviously, everyone is responsible for their own part. All the parts, however, influence each other, as they add up to the same final product.

You might be able to create the prettiest graphics in the world, yet they won’t get you far if they don’t go in line with a wider concept. Good interfaces don’t exist in isolation from information architecture, user journeys, and written content.

In this article, we’re going to focus on the last part: the words. This responsibility lies with the UX writers. Their role is to create good user experience through product copy. They are the people who write interface (UI) copy, from CTAs and button text to tooltips and app notifications.

It’s a relatively new discipline. Not every design team has a dedicated UX writer, especially when it comes to small companies. Quite often, creating the copy (or at least the first draft) is the responsibility of a designer. And here comes the question: do designers actually know how to get it right?

When you started learning how to design websites and digital products, you probably didn’t think much about the words. You know everything about visuals, you know a thing or two about typography, but writing might not be your cup of tea.

Of course, not everyone has to be an excellent writer. On the other hand, the vast majority of interfaces come with a certain amount of text. As a usability professional, you can’t just ignore that fact. The words are there, and you need to tackle them accordingly. Acclaimed thought leaders, such as John Madea, go as far as claiming that writing is the unicorn skill in design.

Even if you don’t have a UX writing expert on board, you can still use some of their expertise. Here are 5 things UI designers can learn from UX writers:

Content-first approach

We’ll start with a general rule.

However tempting it is, drop the lorem ipsum.

Without exaggerating, it’s what UX writers hate most – and not without reason.

Placeholder text may somehow work for very early-stage UX sketches. UI design, on the other hand, is always high-fidelity. The prototypes can be shown to stakeholders and users for review. Dummy content doesn’t help them concentrate on the purpose of your design. If you use lorem ipsum, your test results won’t be of much use.

It’s all because words are an essential part of the experience. Did you know that more than 95% of the information on the web is written? While graphic design can do wonders, it’s still just a part of the equation.

At this stage, there is no space for placeholders. High-fidelity means your design should be ready to use. Dummy text can even depreciate your interface and make it feel like just a matter of aesthetics, while there should be so much more to it. A quote by renowned web designer, Jeffrey Zeldman, sums it up perfectly:

“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”

Drop the lorem ipsum

Both words and visuals are there to help the users achieve their goals. Here’s how you can make them work together:

Use relevant copy to avoid space issues

This is a great way to cut down on design iterations. Have you ever created something you were really proud of, and then it turned out that the text doesn’t quite fit? If you were working with real content, this would be much less likely to happen.

Dummy text can even depreciate your interface and make it feel like just a matter of aesthetics, while there should be so much more to it.

This strategy is also hugely helpful for responsive design. When you have the actual copy from the start, it’s much easier to decide on device breakpoints. Working with lorem ipsum, on the other hand, will almost definitely lead to countless redesigns.

In other words, a content-first approach will help you create a design that improves the product instead of squeezing the product into a pretty visual frame.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that you need perfectly polished text to start working. Even the messiest draft is a whole lot better than lorem ipsum.