How UX Writing Can Improve Design

It’s easy to think that design alone is enough to make users successfully interact with a website or app. However, while the design might draw them in, ultimately, they are there for some kind of information and they need direction. The use of clever design and colour is only effective when coupled with the right words. This is where UX writing comes into play; it enables designers to use a smart combination of words to boost their designs and vastly improve the user experience. 

What is UX Writing?

User experience writing is copywriting that aims to specifically enhance the user experience. It is the process of writing and structuring text that will help move users towards their goal. Rather than paragraphs of copy, UX writing is all about headlines and microcopy. It will persuade users to take action, give them purpose and navigate them towards what they are looking for. Whereas copywriters aim to use words to sell products, services and tools, UX writers aim to use words to support and enhance user communication with interfaces. 

The saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, came about because the human brain can perceive images tens of thousands of times faster than text. However, what a picture, image or graphic can’t guarantee it will do is to convey meanings. Without words, designers run the risk of there being a double-meaning or wrong association, and that creates a huge roadblock when it comes to user experience. UX writing can help users to clearly understand what is going on and can lighten negative experiences in the event that there are problems. UX is the writing that allows designers to transfer ideas more clearly, to support the experience and give additional guidance. 

The Benefits of UX Writing

Considering how language is used and what it conveys early in the design process can bring many benefits to the design process. After all, copy forms an integral part of the user experience along with the flow and layout. Some of the benefits of defining copy with UX writing include:

  • Building empathy with users – by focusing on the layout and visual appearance of screens, designers can become detached from the user’s world. By focusing on words, designers are forced to actively read the interface from the user’s perspective, helping them to gain a better understanding of how they will interact with the design. 
  • Giving context and direction – the copy for interactive elements will lead to an interaction of what follows. Buttons need to be labelled correctly to explain what will happen once they click, and language needs to give context as to where users are in the flow. 
  • Determining spacing and sizing – without having at least a vague idea of copy, it’s impossible to gauge the dimensions that need to be worked with. This can help to increase the amount of white space, reduce the amount of information being placed on a button and ensure readability and impact are addressed. 
  • Encouraging feedback – when it comes to copy, there can be a lot of stakeholder feedback, and that can lead to design amends. If that happens towards the end of a design project, it can cause significant problems. By integrating UX writing early on, feedback can be encouraged and acted upon. 

How to Integrate UX Writing in Design

When it comes to writing, creating less can be a lot harder than more. And, with UX writing, every word counts, with short phrases aiming to inform and encourage users. However, it’s important to remember that UX writing can only be effective if it is supported by the right visual representation. To work, UX writing needs to be integrated into the design. Fortunately, there are several UX design tips that can quickly help to create more UX-friendly designs:

  • Avoid Lorem Ipsum – when initial wireframes use dummy text, it can be extremely misleading and can give a false impression of how the design will look. The earlier real copy is integrated, the better for user experience. What’s more, with real copy, it is much easier to estimate the layout elements and make prototypes look natural. 
  • Adopt simple language – technical jargon, complicated words and passive voice should always be avoided in place of simple, clear language. By using words that everybody knows, users have a much greater chance of acting in an anticipated way. Every word should serve a purpose while considering flow, structure, rhythm and complexity. 
  • Use positive words – try to avoid negative feelings by avoiding telling users they’ve got things wrong; instead encourage them to rectify their errors with positive language. Phrases like try again that encourage users to move forward are far more helpful. 
  • Incorporate numbers – when people see numbers, they think of facts, sizes and statistics. This means that numbers have the power to add value and trust. What’s more, numbers give writers the opportunity to make copy more compact, and enable users to skim more quickly. 
  • Be creative – just like in the traditional design elements, copy doesn’t have to be boring, even when it is short and sweet. The use of appropriate humour can help develop the brand. By coupling clever words with clear icons, users can have an enjoyable experience while still taking the right action. 
  • Be consistent – when there are inconsistencies in language used, it increases users’ cognitive load and negatively impacts the user experience. Consistency should run across language style, formatting and tone. By being consistent in these areas, users can more easily focus on what is actually written and designs can work to build trust in the brand and the user experience.

Could Better Writing Improve Your Next Design?

For every app or website that is designed, UX writing can help to make the user journey more comfortable and purposeful. Knowing what words to use and where to place them is fundamental. All UX copy should be clear, concise, useful and consistent. The trick, of course, is combining content and design in the right way, and to do that UX writing should be integrated in the design process. Do that, and you will see your designs go from strength to strength. 

In summary, here are the key ways that UX writing can help you improve your designs:

  • Gain a new perspective – by focusing on words, you have to read the interface from the user’s perspective and can gain a better understanding of how they will interact with the design.
  • Evaluate interactive elements – by putting words to every interactive element, you can evaluate what will happen next and ensure context and direction are correct and purposeful. 
  • Determine dimensions – it’s very hard to know how big a design element needs to be without knowing the words that it will contain; with an idea of copy, readability and impact can be addressed sooner rather than later. 
  • Encourage feedback – if copy is added shortly before a product is launched, stakeholder feedback can lead to costly amends. By incorporating UX writing early on, feedback can be encouraged and managed. 
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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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