UX writers and UX designers are two halves of the same apple. And they’re best kept close to each other. At all times.
⏲️ Why involve a writer early
In short: to eliminate back-and-forth and get better results in less time.
Say you get a mockup, polished up in every detail, good to go. Or so it seems. But on a closer inspection, you realize the content on the mockup could use some rework. Sometimes it goes deeper than words though: the flow would be best reworked as well, just to become clearer.
And so you suggest changes. But what you don’t know is the suggestions you’re making have long been buried. You can’t actually know that, you’ve been kept out of the loop.
What’s the remedy for that? Here goes:
Start thinking copy from ideation on. Don’t use ipsum in your wires, use real copy. In fact, here’s a crazy thing I like to do: Build your designs — from information architecture and interaction design to in-page layout — around your copy, not the other way around. Let the visual design support the words. You’ll be surprised what the difference in perspective will do for you.
Is copywriting a part of UX design process?, Per Jorgensen
The premise is simple: if using an interface is kind of a dialogue between the system and the user, then interface design should start with words. With what we want to say and why.
And that’s why it’s best for a UX writer to do this:
You’re attending all team rituals, all of your stand-ups, your retrospectives, your road maps, your planning, all of that.
Jonathon Colman: Building world-class design teams, Gerry Scullion
And this one’s my creed:
Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.
🙅♂️ UX writing ≠ microcopy
UX writing is to microcopy what UX is to UI.
Microcopy is one of the outcomes of UX writing. It’s part of UX writing, just as UI is part of UX.
Focusing on microcopy minimizes the role of the UX writer.
UX writing versus microcopy, Bobbie Wood, Patrick Stafford
So just like the UX designer’s job isn’t about making things pretty, mine isn’t about writing clever error messages:
UX is more than UI, UX writing is more than microcopy.
Take the elevator.
Whether it’s big or small, goes fast or slow, has a mirror inside or not, is brightly or dimly lit, whether you lose the signal once inside, how fast or slow its doors open and close, why you choose it over the stairs…
The UI is what the buttons you press look like. Or the display telling you what floor the elevator is on.
Bottom line: microcopy is like the buttons and displays in elevators. But elevators are not just buttons and displays.
👨🏭 How a UX writer works
This is an example path a UX writer takes:
(Excerpted from: UX writing versus microcopy, Bobbie Wood, Patrick Stafford)
Your design team starts with a hypothesis
Together with software engineers, product managers, business analysts, UX designers, and anyone else in the group, you start with an idea.
Let’s say you work for an ice cream delivery app company. Now, a business requirement has come down to your team: currently users need to get through 6 screens to order ice cream. You have to reduce that to 4 because data is showing users abandoning the flow.
You start gathering data
Heatmaps, traffic, user interviews, recordings. Everything you can get your hands on to understand the problem and how people interact with it.
Then, you start creating ideas
With your goal in mind, the team gets together and starts ideating: what could we do to make sure that users only see 4 screens instead of 6?
Once you have an idea, you build a prototype
Together with the designers, you’ll start creating a prototype. You’ll actually write some rough copy here, but it’s not going to be your final. Instead, it’s going to be your content prototype. You’ll put it in front of users to test it.
You start prepping your test questions
Together with UX researchers, you’ll start figuring out what it is you need from your test users. As a UX writer, you’ll be focused on copy: what language will resonate? Is the copy clear, concise, and compelling? Does it make them curious and motivated? Is it useful?
Synthesize the results and put them back in your prototype
The UX researchers will likely run the tests, but you’ll still have a key role in determining what direction you should take based on users’ feedback.
Your job is to understand the user’s mental model, their current basis for understanding, and shift them to understand what it is you’re offering.
Finally, you polish
Based on everything you’ve done so far, you start crafting copy.
Bottom line: UX writing is way more than just words.
It’s about understanding what words are needed, when, and why.
👉🏼 On a high level, UX writing is about problem-solving: getting people from A to B in the most efficient way possible. The same way a UX designer does it.
UX writers just have a different primary weapon — plain language.
Content designers and product designers work in the same way, doing the same things, using the same materials, the same approaches, the same process, all of that.
Jonathon Colman: Building world-class design teams, Gerry Scullion
🛬 Flight 6901
True story: in the early 90s, 12 people died in a plane crash that occurred because of…bad verb choice.
Long story short, the pull up message came on but was disregarded. The plane hit the ground, 12 of the 102 passengers were killed. The black box recording showed that the pilot, instead of proceeding with the suggested maneuver, asked the first officer What does ‘pull up’ mean?
Pull up is a phrasal verb, these are not easily translated into other languages. The plane was American-made and piloted by a Chinese man. It was only after 2008 that mandatory language exams were introduced for pilots.
This just goes to show that if you incorporate content design into the product development process, you can avoid lots of problems, sometimes quite serious ones.
🤔 Wires? Maybe. Maybe not
A UX writer will tell you there’s an alternative to a wireframe. It’s called a priority guide and it’s about laying out content hierarchy. Like this:
Priority Guides: A Content-First Alternative to Wireframes
But does that mean wires need to be tossed out the window? Not necessarily. I wrote to the author of the article above:
Hi, Heleen. So, I’ve read your article on priority guides, and I wonder: are you saying to ditch wireframes whatsoever, or just use them later on, after the guides?
Heleen van Nues
Usually, whilst making my priority guides, I test my own ideas by wireframing. The more is already detailed in the project or the less experience the visual designer has, the more I wireframe. But it always starts with priority guides.
Thanks, Heleen. So, basically, it’s about putting the guides first, wireframes next, not throwing the wireframes out the window, right?
You don't have to throw away the wireframe. It is just with a wireframe you tend to focus a lot on details and mainly on how it looks aesthetically. Wireframing will only distract from staying focused on identifying the right type of content in the right hierarchy. To know what has to go in the wireframe, you need content – and a priority guide.
🔬 Case study — Capital One
Here’s how the content-first approach allowed the Capital One bank to increase the completion rate of its account opening form for SMEs from 26% to 92%.
The case study speaks about an important metric of UX writing, which is task completion.
Other metrics, in no particular relation to the study, include:
- Deflection rate (how much less often you have to call support)
- Feature adoption
- User engagement
___ Bottom(est) line
- UX writer is neither an editor nor a quick-fixer. Writing is maybe 10% of the UX writer’s job.
- UX writers perform best when working in tandem with UX designers. The latter design how the user will navigate the interface, the former — what content should be displayed and where.
- Words are the basic building blocks of an interface. They can make it, they can break it.
- UX writer should jump into a project from the get-go. Both feet is fine 😉.
Originally published at https://piotr.fyi
Try to separate them, you’ll come to this conclusion was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.