Designers: Copy needs some love too

By Jesse Viana | UX Copywriter at Monday

Have you ever stopped to think about words for a minute? They are everywhere — look around for a bit. Anywhere you look, online or offline, they are just so present that you often don’t even notice them being there. And that’s great! It means that they are doing their job of instructing, explaining, directing, and guiding us through physical and virtual journeys.

When you think about apps, websites, interfaces, and everything in between, could you imagine them being wordless? Words give them meaning, give them clarity, and empower them with context — so that we can, ultimately, make sense of things. Without words, they would be utterly unusable.

As a UX Writer, I think about words, sentences, punctuation, verbs, tone, and voice quite a lot. After all, writing is my way of designing, even if I didn’t realize it at first — and it should be accessible for everyone, even if you’re not a writer for a living. Designers of the world, let’s welcome some words into your life!

Writing as a Design process

The more you think about writing as a design process, the more striking the power that words have in sharing user experiences will be. One thing we know for sure is that without writing, UX Design wouldn’t be complete. Why did you ask? People need direction and meaning in their experiences, and words make design more UX friendly — it’s meant to be for users.

Design is all about communication, and it should always be a conversation between a product and its user. This is exactly what UX Writers do: the designing of words that people see when interacting with software (we tell you all about it in our previous article about UX Writing and Microcopy), delivering the right information at the right time, whenever needed be. It’s telling users what to expect of their experience.

Oh, and take on this great advice: it’s no longer enough to look at writing as an afterthought of the design process. Copy — by this, I mean the filling of words in the design interface — can make or break the user experience, and this calls for a cross-team collaboration between designers and writers early-on in the project so that everything works harmoniously. The result is the smoothest user experience possible.

The copy is as much part of the user experience as the flow and layout, and defining copy can actually make designers better.

Good UX is when design meets written language

If the content doesn’t deliver, even the most attractive page won’t hold the reader’s attention — and that’s why design is a process that should happen with content. Contrary to what’s been said, sometimes a picture is not worth a thousand words. And that’s super ok! This is why user-centered copy is vital to creating successful products and why UX Writing is the key to making users interact with products in the smoothest way possible.

UX Writers are aware of all the readability principles for users, so they need to be engaged in the creative process. UX Designers incorporate brand elements into their design in a usable way. UX Writers think about brand voice and how it manifests itself in the product. Think about it like this: designers think about buttons, forms, dialogue boxes, etc; and so do UX Writers — only with terminology and action words.

Andy Well, UX Content Strategy Manager at Adobe, and co-writer of the book “Writing is designing,” said it really well: “you have to be willing to be an evangelist and to spread the gospel of UX Writing; get designers excited about words, and how they can be used as design tools.”

Are you ready to get excited about words?

Keep on reading to know how to make your design great.

Best practices on designing with words

If you want to start mastering your texts but have no clue on how to do it, here are some of the best practices to take into consideration the next time you need to design with words:

1. Write for people, not users.

Empathy is what makes your text sound like something you’d actually say to a human being, as we’re humans designing for other humans (sorry, sweet little R2D2’s of this world!).

2. Short beats good.

Wise words of advice coming from John Saito, content designer at Dropbox (and a fun fellow to learn UX Writing advice from!). Saito believes that most people don’t like to read. Whenever someone is looking at text on a screen, they scan the words and don’t actually read them (yep, I think we can all agree on this, right? I know that I often do this myself).

Words should enhance people’s experiences and not complicate them — so be ruthless and write as clearly as you possibly can.

3. Call people to action.

Your mission as a designer — and even more so as a UX Writer — is to take people on a journey, so choose words that increase their productivity, like verbs, for example. Encourage your user to take action by following your lead and, most importantly, allow them to go on their own discovery crusade.

The trick is to go for simple statements about key interactions and write in the present tense (*wink!*).

4. It’s not (all) about you.

It always comes back to empathy, right? It’s imperative to cultivate it as much as possible — after all, we practice human-centered design. Products should be easily located and understandable, even by someone with different backgrounds, languages, cultures, etc.

Bring a smile to those who are reading! :)

5. Be empowering.

How you write your words is also important — after all, no one likes to feel encouraged or defeated. Focus on what people can do with courage and optimism. Some good examples to start with are authentic and positive words, and forget about the “can’t” and the “don’t” vibes.

6. Ban Lorem Ipsum.

I know that it’s tempting to fill in the (early) voids of your interface with random Latin words. That way, you can design first and think about what to fill in the blanks with later, right? Wrooong.

Believe me when I say this: even if you’re not a writer, you have an idea of what should be communicated to the user, as you know what your product is about. Sketch out some ideas to use in the wireframes, and only use filler text which describes the copy that will be expected to be there. It will save you a lot of headache in the final stretch!

7. Keep it simple.

Simple and straightforward language ensures that every word is serving a specific purpose. When in doubt, reorder the words as many times as you need until it makes sense, and you feel like it brings clarity to your message. The point is to provide the user with context without overwhelming it.

8. Consistency is key.

As you probably know, writing must fit the same in every screen size, so don’t forget about flexibility across platforms. Language style, formatting, and tone should be the same in every one of them, as it fosters trust in the experience and helps the user focus on the content, not so much on the style.

Pssst: when designing larger screens, take advantage of the extra space to point out different features! You’re welcome.

Writing is design’s unicorn skill 🦄

Good writing can help you develop new and interesting ways of expressing an idea while being easily understandable, and words bring your personality into your design. I hope this article was helpful to you, and if you have any questions — or if you have something you want me to add — feel free to let me know!

See you next time, evangelists! :)

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Monday is a Business Design Consultancy based in sunny Lisbon. We co-create with ambitious leaders to build better businesses. We use strategy & design to transform businesses from within.

This core philosophy stands at the center of everything we create. Clients include: Mercedes, EDP, Red Bull, Banco de Portugal, Microsoft, Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda, Philips, Jogos Santa Casa, among others.

We co-create with ambitious leaders to build better businesses. We use strategy & design to transform businesses from within.