Guiding the user experience through UX writing

You might not realise it, but you read and interact with UX writing on a daily basis. If you don't spot it, it's probably doing its job.

You might not realise it, but you read and interact with UX writing on a daily basis. Your app notifications? – probably curated by a dedicated UX writer. Booking a hotel and clicking a ‘Check availability’ button? That wasn’t just a design choice, it was planned and tested to be the best wording for you. If you didn’t spot it, its probably doing its job.

In recent years, there has been a big shift in the focus of digital design. We’re no longer designing for our clients, we’re designing for their users. And with this focus on human-centred design comes more of a responsibility for testing, and ultimately results.

We’re no longer designing for our clients, we’re designing for their users.

WTF is UX writing?

UX writing is copywriting focussed on user experience – yes, another UX related job title. It goes hand in hand with UX and UI design, aiming to make the user feel more comfortable and informed using the most appropriate language. That button with a lovely hover effect wouldn’t do its job if it didn’t tell the user exactly what to do and make them want to click it.

Clever UX writing is all about the subtle persuasion of the user, giving them all the information that allows them to make the right decision for them (and hopefully the client as well). Users need a clear path and copy can help them navigate.

Users don’t know where to go unless you tell them.

Designing the words

UX writing is about curating the interaction between users and products. It sits within the design process, unlike traditional marketing copywriting which often comes as an afterthought. Clever wording can set a design apart as well as get that click rate rolling.

Digital behaviour is constantly evolving, and designers and writers need to keep up. Users are more likely to scan and speed read copy, so capturing their attention is increasingly difficult. By creating islands of content with components, users are able to pick out the important bits quickly and efficiently.

Breaking up a page is one thing, but UX writers still need to tap into the user’s needs and ultimately trigger the response they want. Using soft directives rather than cold language on calls to action can imply trust and be more persuasive. Keeping the language concise and the interaction minimal can also motivate the user to make a decision. It’s about analysing user behaviour and providing the direction they need.

UX writing is about curating the interaction between users and products.

Just like design, it is important to test the effectiveness of copy, so we often A/B test the language alongside component variations. You might see different wording on a button to another user looking at the same website at the same time. We’ll test which one is more successful – mostly in terms of click and conversion rate. These minimal changes can make all the difference, but we want users to show us how effective they are before they can be implemented.

Tiny, subtle changes can sometimes have the biggest impact on conversion

Another really important factor to consider whilst ‘designing the words’ is designing for failure. Failure can quite easily come when a website is automatically translated. This is something that should be considered in the design phase, and therefore when considering appropriate copy.

German is often considered the best language to do a quick test with on components, due to its longer average word length. Testing against multiple languages is time-consuming but advised to get the best results – it will pay off in the end, especially for a global product or service.

Much like design, UX writing can sometimes miss the mark. I’ve put together some good and bad examples, to show how much of an effect it can have on user experience.

The good vs the not so good - Examples of good UX writing

1 – AirBnb

Airbnb uses short and simple prompts to get users to start searching. This is much more effective than a simple “search here.”

2 – Grammarly

Grammarly is a great example of using concise copy to explain a product to users. The addition of “It’s free” on a call to action immediately squash monetary concerns a user might have – without them searching for a pricing page.

3 – MailChimp

MailChimp is clear and to the point with their feature descriptions, as well as changing the wording of their calls to action to match.

Examples of UX writing that needs a little work

1 – Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean use lengthy and vague language to describe a cruise package. If you can’t say it in limited space, give the user a brief version, and explain in detail at the next stage in their journey.

2 – LinkedIn

LinkedIn giving us an example of design and copy not working together. There is a message of action (upgrade to LinkedIn Premium) with no opportunity for the user to follow through.

3 – LuckyTrip

LuckyTrip are relying on the user associating the copy “Let the button decide” and the “lucky” button with each other, even though they are far apart and the action on the button is not clear. Whilst the user might be able to figure it out, it would be much better to help them get there quicker.

5 tips for good UX writing

  1. Get to know the user. This is as important for a UX writer as it is for a designer. Do your research and it will pay off in the results.
  2. Be clear and concise. Spare the user of the fluffy stuff and tell them what they need to hear quickly.
  3. Don’t be weird. A ‘quirky’ (I hate that word) brand doesn’t always have to mean alternative copy. Keep the purpose clear.
  4. Make sure you give the user as much context as possible.
  5. Keep a consistent and appropriate tone. A cohesive narrative will help to direct the user around.

SE - oh

A good UX writer uses their expertise to create copy which is both effective for the user and for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). SEO can cause quite a few problems when combined with the user’s needs, so some serious thought needs to go into the copy we all take for granted.

As organic SEO is focussed on search terms and effective keywords, working these into well-worded and clear copy for the user might get you in a pickle. The best practice is to consider the user first, then check if there are any SEO implications or if there is a compromise that could work.

The ideal journey for a customer is to find you easily and click through to the place they want to be quickly. At the end of the day, if your users can’t find you on Google, your efforts in design are wasted.

The perfect partnership

A good partnership between language and design is important. If we look at the way that products are focussing on conversational narratives, like chatbots and virtual assistants, it is clear that human-centred copy is right in the centre.

UX Design and UX Writing are now a duo, and it looks like they are here to stay.