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UX writing: the missing ingredient in digital design

By Jennifer Thompson, UX writer



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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January 7, 2019 | 5 min read

Historically, writers and designers shared a symbiotic relationship - complementing each other’s talent to produce illustrious ads and marketing materials. For years, this partnership coupled copy with design but following the emergence of digital design agencies, attitudes toward the two respective mediums have shifted. In many cases, copy is in-sourced by the agencies of today and, as a result, many products or services fail to resonate with their target users.

Foolproof's UX writing team have a planning session.

A UX writer’s skill set comprises a combination of copywriting, communications, SEO and experience design expertise.

Even though design is, for the most part, a powerful resource, copy’s unwavering ability to connect with users on an emotional and, sometimes, human level is difficult to emulate. When copy is done well, in the form of UX writing, it is incredibly powerful. For example, when conducting user research on first time buyer journeys for mortgages, one participant described being overwhelmed with financial jargon and believed the process too complex to complete.

Once we presented the same participant with a webpage that spoke her language, and demystified the proposition, she experienced such relief that her emotional reaction meant we were unable to continue with the session. This, for us, is proof that with the right copy, agencies can ensure their designs are intuitive and navigable while producing successful outcomes for the end user.

When copy becomes design

Most designers do not have the time - nor skills - to create user-centred copy as their focus is on design. The role of the UX writer, however, is integral to experience design, its personification and subsequent success.

In this sense, copy is design as it serves the end user in the most optimum way and becomes the ultimate arbitrator of a design’s tone and delivery. Equally, it adds cohesion to design and, as a point of differentiation, sets digital experiences apart. It can truly be the difference between someone purchasing your product or walking away.

In recent times, many digital agencies have nurtured their design capabilities. As a result, they uphold the expertise to execute compelling digital experiences. Content and copy, in particular, is often the key differentiator in these experiences. For example, Monzo has commendably monopolised the challenger bank landscape through their use of ‘hot coral’ coloured bank cards and well-conceived copy that resonates with their users’ needs and expectations.

The brand’s clever use of emojis throughout their terms and conditions means that their users are far more likely to read them. Fundamentally, this kind of copy is central to engagement and user retention. If the text is too lengthy or the tone is inappropriate, experiences can fall apart making them difficult to navigate.

What do UX writers bring to the table?

A UX writer’s skill set comprises a combination of copywriting, communications, SEO and experience design expertise. Though copywriters may have the technical know-how to generate bespoke copy, they can have their own agendas. Typically, they are conditioned to produce copy which is both promotional and focused on driving sales. In relation to UX, these qualities are important if there is something to sell but, when misused, can lead to bad UX practices.

Similarly, while marketeers uphold some of the qualities required to create copy which is user-friendly, UX writers are best placed to create it. Unlike marketeers, UX writers have a firm understanding of the research and design process. This can be used to inform copy and is often the best way of doing so.

With a strong comprehension of your users, what works for them and what doesn’t, UX writers allow us – through the human-like interfaces they populate - to connect, engage, understand and make well informed decisions.

From micro-copy to translation, the role of a UX writer is varied which is why their craft is so transformative. In our experience, their effort improves conversion, establishes brand authority and ensures that onboarding is successful. Text which is concise and clear in tone helps to better communicate risk and compliance statements making the complex and mystifying simple while improving overall product/service offerings.

Going forward, design’s unchartered data layer – a collective information reserve currently used to improve decision making - should better inform and modernise copy. For now, agencies must seriously consider hiring and integrating UX writers into their design teams before voice – an emerging interface – warrants their undivided attention and expertise to generate smart UIs.

Jennifer Thompson, UX Writer at Foolproof

Copywriter Creative Copy

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