UX Writing: It All Starts With a Story

Once upon a time… there was a product that had many key functionalities for its users. Stakeholders turned to designers to bring their ideas to life. The designers created them, researchers tested them and developers spent hours turning it into code. Do the product and users live happily ever after? For those of us who create digital products, this sequence is typical. Is this the best we can do when it comes to a product?

Your product should tell its own story

You may have already heard about storytelling. If not, check out our article on how to improve your products through storytelling. In a nutshell, creating a good story in your product can help articulate ideas and explain difficult concepts. If you are familiar with storytelling, make sure to apply it during the development of your product, integrating it into the early stages of the product development.

To start with the design or the story, that is the question

Usually, those of us who create digital products receive a concept, which is a summary of a product. After that, all teams involved in the design have to think about how the interface should look, how the user will navigate through it, and what words can describe the product. This last step is not a minor one, and you may not be paying enough attention to it.

Sometimes the bustle of the product makes the content seem only like a filler. Have you noticed how many designs use “lorem ipsum” as placeholders in the texts? At how many meetings and presentations have you heard “content is not final yet”?

If you want your design to tell an immersive story that users enjoy, you should pay more attention to the messaging which conveys the story of your product. 


“Ladies, kids, and content first”

In his article “Ladies, kids and content first”, Emiliano Cosenza explains why it is important to focus on content first. He emphasizes that a good design should be a sequence of tasks ordered by time to generate enjoyable experiences for people. This is important, he explains, because “without content, there is no story and there will be no experience.”

Looking at it this way, one cannot really understand why sometimes we still continue to insist on starting the design with the screens before understanding the story. But do you know why? Because we don’t have the practice.


Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Find a way, not an excuse

We are often rushing to meet deadlines. Do the ‘future you’ a favour; stop and look for an objective at the very beginning of a project — what visual and written language should we use to communicate what we want our screens to say — it is time saved in the future. 

How to do it? Let’s go in order. The first thing is to create a brief. Just a simple document, something where we can dump our ideas about our product. For this to be effective, we should ask ourselves some questions:

What is the purpose of our product? What needs or pains does it solve?

This is where it all begins: what we are looking for, what the idea is. It is the vision and mission of the product — the core of what we are developing and why.

What do we want to achieve with what we communicate?

At this step, we already involve users. We pinpoint what we want them to do and the tasks they will perform within the product.

What voice and tone are we going to use? What “mood” do we want to convey?

If our product is a finance app for businesses, and we want to look elegant and sophisticated, we are not going to address the user in a funny and informal way such as “Hi User? What’s up?”

On the other hand, if our product wants that closeness, the tone changes. We can play around, and we also have leeways to do it.

Now let’s put it into practice…

With all of the above in mind, we can begin to tell a story. How do we do it?

By this point, we have already done some part of discovery or generative research and identified users’ concerns or pain points.

What’s next? Do we sit down and draw? Well, no, not yet! We have to agree on what the story of the product will be. You should define what you are looking to tell through the user’s journey of the product. You should also identify where it starts, how it continues, what paths it can take, and where it ends.

If you’re asked to tell your grandmother the story of your product, what would you say to her?

At this point, it could be useful to think about your story as a dialog between the user and the product. What the user would ask and how the product would answer. Let’s see an example:

User: I want to buy something.

Product: Ok, do you want to search, or would you prefer to see my recommendations?

User: I think that I’m looking for a specific pair of shoes.

Product: Ok, these are my results of “shoes” you can filter or sort.

User: Yes, I need them to be size four and red and I want to see the most recommended first.

Product: Filter done!

User: I need to see what’s the difference between these two models.

Product: Sure, you can compare them.

User: Great, this pair suits me better. I’m going to buy them.

Product: Nice! I’ll show you the way to finish your purchase.

If we think of the structure of the site as a dialogue between the product and the user, both the words and the features will come out. We will always focus on what we want to show, the core of our product, but this example is to clarify how we can generate engagement between the user and product, at any stage of  the flow.

This is where we talk about UX Writing. If you are not very familiar with the concept yet, you can find out more about The Art of Designing Conversations and some Handy Tips on Text Improving User Experience.



How can I test the content of my story?

I have created the full story and thought about the objectives and the mood. I made a paragraph explaining the main functionalities of my product in a way that even my grandmother could understand. Lastly, I imagined a dialog between the product and the user, and used it to focus on the words needed in the design. Should I test my content now?

Like the design, the content evolves over time through testing and iterations of the product. 

And you have so many options to do it, utilising the various options available. As an example, you can do content-focused usability tests to understand which action works best on your CTA, or you can A / B test it, just to mention a few.

So did the product and the user live happily ever after?

We all like those fairy tales, but in UX, we don’t believe in happy endings; we believe in iterations. This is perhaps the biggest challenge: after splitting our heads thinking what to put on that CTA, what would be the perfect wording, we tested it and it turned out that users don’t understand it. 

How can we find the perfect match? Investigate first, see how other products put it, see what else you can find in the market and – this is serious – use a dictionary. 

Always make sure not to fall into the mistake of using overly technical terms or jargon that may make the user uncomfortable. You can also learn more about how you can Improve Your UX Writing by reading our UX designer colleague’s article.

Searching for the right UX agency?

UX studio works with rising startups and established tech giants worldwide. 

Should you want to improve the design and performance of your digital product, message us to book a consultation with us. We will walk you through our design processes and suggest the next steps! 

Our experts would be happy to assist with the UX strategy, product and user research, UX/UI design, etc.

Lucila Di Vanni Frick

Product Designer from Argentina. Living and creating in Budapest

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