UX writing and how it shapes the product

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Often overlooked, UX writing is what makes a product feel alive. When done well, it injects personality, guides the user and more.

8 min read

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UX writing is everywhere. We’re constantly interacting with it, whether we realize it or not. It’s in buttons, pop-ups, alerts, notifications, and default copy in text fields. It’s in the “What’s happening?” prompt in Twitter and the “What’s on your mind?” status update on Facebook. It’s what drives the user to perform actions. It’s what makes a product feel alive.

What is UX writing and why is it important?

UX writing lives in a place between marketing and product and can often fall to either department, depending on the company. Many companies don’t have dedicated UX writers. Whoever has a knack for it, the UX designer writing the feature spec, or the UI designer drawing up the mockups, might end up being the person who handles it.

It’s strange how overlooked it is, given how big an impact it has. In almost any platform, whether it’s an app, a website, or an operating system, UX copy will be seen more than marketing copy, certainly by existing users.

A brand’s tone is set and maintained meticulously by the marketing department, but, in many instances, writing a tooltip or a prompt gets picked up by anyone who’s on hand. If the UX writing is inconsistent with the image a brand sets in its ads and marketing materials, users might feel like the product is underdeveloped, unfriendly, or neglected.

Great interactions with a product happen when the user feels that they are being spoken to at eye level.

It’s important that UX writing is done right. It might seem like a small detail, but imagine how many variations of the call-to-action for a status update Facebook tested before settling on the current one. Just as changing a color or an image can have a significant impact on conversion rates, the exact words you use can determine how likely users are to follow through on an action you want them to take.

UX designer writing notes on wall

How the principles of UX design apply to UX writing

Good UX writing is like good UX design.

It needs to be executed first and foremost with the user in mind. You may have a metric you’re trying to improve, but if you aren’t considering what the experience is like for your users, you may create an experience that is off-putting.

When writing from your user’s perspective, think about what they care about and why they would want to perform that action. Always frame actions in the way the user will benefit from them most. Going back to Twitter again–you can imagine the difference in conversions between “Enter your tweet” (or something to that effect) and “What’s happening?” The former is uninviting and almost robotic, while the latter is personal, colloquial, and an interesting call-to-action.

Putting yourself in your user’s shoes is more than just what sounds friendly, though. Just like user personas help identify how to build experiences for the user, they can help you understand how to speak to them as well. A messenger app targeted at 15-25-year-olds isn’t going to use the same language as a healthcare website design.

Ideally, when drafting brand guidelines, the tone and language the company uses should be included. Simple adjectives like helpful, calm, and happy can help zero in on what your brand should sound like whenever it addresses your users, especially on your platform.

If your workflow dictates that copy is added after design, you should make sure you’re not using placeholder text while designing, because accidentally forgetting to replace it with the real thing can result in the placeholder copy getting implemented. Developers aren’t necessarily looking closely at what the copy is when they’re coding, so you should never let something that’s not supposed to be implemented get to them.

At the very least, there should be an acceptable, minimum level of quality that copy should be written with as the feature is being designed, even if you’re planning on coming back later with a writer.

Hand drawn UX wireframes

Why you should add UX copy as you design

That being said, it’s worth considering writing UX copy as you design features, whether you’re writing it yourself or working alongside a writer.

If, instead of waiting until the end to inject it, we make it a part of the process, UX copy doesn’t have to just inform the user. It can inform the design.

Designing a user experience is ultimately about communicating with users: highlighting important parts of the platform, defining a hierarchy that makes it easy to parse, and creating a flow that’s intuitive.

If we design with UX copy, we’re giving ourselves another chance to see things from our users’ perspectives during critical phases of the design process.

Where things can go wrong if you neglect UX writing

If you’re designing a new feature and adding copy as you go, you may find yourself having a hard time finding tooltip, button, or pop-up copy that’s clear. If you can’t communicate the feature to the user with text, your designs might not be communicating it visually, either.

It could also highlight the disparity between the feature and the brand tone. For example, if a messaging platform is built to be used between close friends, it may not make sense to encourage the user to share the