Content is a key component in UX development. This includes persuasive copy designed to get users to perform an action. Because of this, writing skills are a valuable part of the UX toolkit.
Designers do not need to be professional content writers, but an understanding of the basics of writing will greatly assist in UX design.
A sound understanding of the intended user prior to development will inform the correct style and tone of voice needed for a project. Once this has been established, there are a few basic rules to follow, that will result in your communication achieving the desired results.
Be Clear, Direct and Transparent.
These days, people are inundated with content vying for their attention. Users have become adept at skimming; picking out words or phrases that are of value to them and weeding out click-bait and content that is of no interest.
It is important that your writing is succinct. Remove the excess and include only that which is necessary. Get to the point in as few words as possible and be transparent in what you are asking of the user.
This is as important within a work environment as it is in customer-centred communication. When sending an email to colleagues with updated company policies, for example, you want to be sure it does not get dismissed as spam or phishing.
The subject line should be specific too and stand out, if an action is required, make sure this is clearly stated.
If you require a colleague to look over and provide feedback on your work, a subject that reads ‘Need this project proposal approved by 5pm today!’ is more impactful and informative than simply ‘UX project proposal.’
The latter does not have the same urgency and can easily be put aside in favour of other work.
Consider the Correct Structure.
Written communication is less arduous and time-consuming for the recipient when structured in an easily digestible fashion. Readability is a crucial element in the overall user experience.
Be clear as to who the message is aimed at from the outset of your communication. Start with “Hello” or “Hi” followed by the person or persons name from whom you require a response or action.
Your intro should be brief and clarify the purpose of the communication. This should provide context to the upcoming request. A short, succinct sentence is all that is needed.
Make sure that you clearly define what action is needed. Do not be vague with your request, as this leads to follow up emails looking for clarification and wastes valuable time.
Having established the actions to be taken, you can add any additional information. However, this should only be included if it serves to improve the users understanding of the request. Unnecessarily long emails will lose the attention of the reader.
Ending your message correctly will inspire more responses in a timely manner than an abrupt or demanding sign off will.
Thanking people for taking the time to read and engage with the message and offer the chance for further clarification by inviting questions via email.
Avoid these Common Errors:
Typos and Grammar Errors.
Typos and grammatical errors are easy to make, but are far from ideal in a professional setting. Make sure you read through your article multiple times, checking for spelling mistakes, duplicated words and missing apostrophes.
Utilise your word processor’s spelling and grammar tool and read your piece aloud (or use reading software to read it aloud to you) so that you can hear how your words flow and ensure that they make sense.
Inappropriate Tone of Voice.
The digital world has made communication simple and fast. However, interpreting tone has become difficult.
When sending digital communication you are unable to convey the intended tone of voice through sound and body language, so misinterpretation is common.
To avoid coming off as aggressive or confrontational, be sure to re-read your message a few times. It can be helpful to step away from it and come back with fresh eyes before sending.
Avoid using all capitals as this is perceived as shouting in written form.
Passive voice can reduce the clarity of a message, resulting in time spent clarifying and answering questions that could have been avoided.
An example of a sentence in passive voice is “The project was reviewed yesterday by the clients.”
This is more effectively written as, “The clients reviewed the project yesterday.” This achieves the same result in fewer words, avoiding potential confusion or misinterpretation.
Filter Words and Phrases.
Filter words and phrases reduces the impact of your message. These are explanatory or descriptive words that put distance between the reader and the objective.
An example of a sentence with filter phrases is as follows: “I feel that we will achieve the best results on this project by working together in a collaborative way.”
This is better written as, “We will achieve the best results by working together.” The end result is the same, but is reached in a more direct manner.
Good writing is an essential skill for UX designers. To get a user to complete the required action, information needs to be clear and to the point. Typos, grammatical errors, awkward phrasing and a lack of structure is a distraction to the reader. An understanding of the basic principles makes for easy reading and better understanding.
Andy Curry, our UX director adds “Written content itself is a vital part of any design, down to the labelling and instructional copy. You do not have to be a fully fledged content writer, but an understanding of the best practice of good writing will help any UX professional. Do not forget that a sound understanding of your intended user will help optimise this content and copy too.”
At Lion and Mason, our recent work with the DfE (Department for Education) included extensive testing of copy, instructions and CTA labels for comprehension, word-choice and readability. Ensuring all text elements accurately communicated what was needed.