UX copywriting: how language shapes useful, usable design

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Language is a crucial component of good design.

What I mean by that is this: unless the composition of words on a web page or app screen are contextually spot-on and aligned with your user’s needs, no UI design or code (no matter how exquisitely crafted in their own right) is going to save the performance of that product.

And yet, unfortunately, in years gone by copy and content are precisely what have ‘let the team down’, when it comes to effective user experience design.

But that’s all changing, of late.

Design teams are quickly realising that copy has at least as much of a role to play in the design and development of useful, usable digital products, as technical and aesthetic components.

And that’s where the art and science of UX copywriting and content optimisation comes in.

Before we take a closer look at what UX copywriting is and how it adds value, let’s first lay out some basic definitions of what the fields of user experience and user experience design are all about…

User experience and user experience design: some definitions

 

User experience: a defintion

User experience (UX) describes the net result of a user’s interactions with a product or service.

Online, we most often talk about UX for websites or apps — but any kind of user-facing online interface designed to be interacted with, has some kind of user experience to describe (good or bad). And that experience can be designed.

UX design: a definition

UX design is the holistic effort to research, design, test, and optimise a user’s interactions with a web product or service.

Key elements of UX design work include:

  • User interface (UI) design: the visualisation of all interactive elements of a web page
  • Information Architecture (IA): the structural organisation, categorisation, and labelling of content into usable navigation systems and cohesive user journeys
  • Copy: the crafting of meaningful and instructive communication that complements wider design elements, aligns with brand style and tone, and supports the user to efficiently complete a task

Three elements of UX design - User Interface, Information Architecture, and Copy

UX copywriting: user-led, clear, and purposeful language

UX copywriting describes the art and science of using language to shape interactions with a digital product or service. That’s achieved through crafting instructive language that is:

  • user-led
  • clear
  • purposeful

User-led, means….
Copy that is informed by research on who the user is, their goals, the tasks they need to get done, and the language they use.

Clear, means…
Copy that communicates in a direct, jargon-free, and Plain English style, with communication structured into scannable formats and digestible ‘chunks’ of information.

Purposeful, means…
Copy that carries consistent and succinct messaging, value propositions and calls to action that make it crystal-clear what the user needs to know, what their options are — and what they do next.

Where and how copy can shape UX design work

Practically speaking, UX copywriting uses language to shape core web design components such as:

  • call to action buttons and other UI ‘conversion points’: finding the most effective ‘trigger’ words and language to the guide user decisions and actions.
  • web form field headings, micro copy, and error messages: assisting the user to swiftly understand and complete fields, and translating technical errors into simple instructions.
  • information architecture: developing intuitive labelling and taxonomies for content organisation, categorisation and navigation systems.
  • other interactive UI elements: ensuring clickable design elements are accentuated and as self-explanatory as possible

And more broadly, a UX copywriter ensures that an entire end-to-end user journey is adopting a consistent style, tone, and voice that aligns with the brand and the preferences of users.

But beyond ‘the doing’ of providing the rights words to infuse into existing designs, an experienced UX copywriter can play an important strategic role at all stages of the a typical UX design process.

A typical UX design strategy process normally goes something like:

  • User research
  • Design
  • Testing
  • Implement and iterate

A UX copywriter offers a language-oriented perspective on all stages of this process.

A writer can spot gaps and opportunities in research data, that otherwise might go unnoticed. For example, issues arising from user interviews and surveys could be signalling problems with overly technical language and tone of voice, which could be remedied by adopting more direct, simple user interface copy.

And a copywriter is the perfect person to help translate insights from user research data into valuable internal assets such as user personas and experience maps, helping a design team to articulate an empathetic road map of who our users are and how to communicate with them.

But if there’s no copywriter in the room, these solutions can easily go under the radar, with efforts over-weighted on visual design efforts (which ultimately, miss the mark).

Copy is the not-so-secret ingredient behind useful, usable, and maybe even at times delightful, digital experiences. So when it comes to your own digital projects, remember:

Language is at the heart of communication, and the only purpose of a website is to communicate. Get the language right first. Tech isn’t going to fix your problem — communication is.

– Seth Godin

Joseph Phillips

Joseph Phillips

Copywriter and content strategist

Joseph supports organisations to achieve their business goals and serve customer needs — by publishing clear, purposeful, and value-adding content, through:

  • copywriting for the web
  • web content optimisation
  • content and UX strategy consultancy

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