It’s a UX mantra and also a mission statement to create useful and usable products. Thus, creating useful and usable content is also self-evident. But is it really? It’s also one of the fundamental statements that copy is part of user experience and the UX Designer is responsible for providing a copy suggestion that is reviewed, tested and iterated. As all skills, UX writing also needs to be practiced, so there’s a chance you are a UX Designer with a lucky combination of skill sets.
The recent appearance of the UX Writer position reflects the complex digital tendency beyond the user interface, drawing the importance of strategy behind content.
The challenge is rather bigger if you are not a native speaker or a truly bilingual. It might be evident, but we all perceive our second and third languages differently, regardless of fluency. That’s where the copy needs even more attention.
Obviously, the same happens when your product needs to be localized – English is a global language, but trust can be best built in the vernacular. In a lucky case, the first and maybe the second language versions are worked out with care and researched thoroughly, but all the other versions are simply translated. The precisely translated expressions often lack follow-up on whether they work in other cultures the same way. Thus, if you are at a product company aiming to build trust in multiple languages, it is essential to your growth to concentrate on this aspect of UX writing with more dedicated professionals.
Assuming all your users have English proficiency is another aspect of the language problem. Actually, it’s the same as using a technical language: if you know your product from head-to-toe, you easily take obvious things for granted. If you know your users, you will know the limits of industry-specific language. You can also empathize with the feeling of uncertainty when you don’t understand something communicated which you are “supposed” to.
When marketing and UX collide
Finding a common ground for these three is challenging, so it is best to invest time and energy to work on a brand persona, and thus a style guide, as early as possible.
It will not only cover the copy itself but the personality and behavior of your product, the values it needs to represent. Depending on the product type, maybe it is a set of disciplines in the beginning all parties have to keep in mind. Maybe it is an entire style guide, a compilation of rules and examples as your business grows.
The lucky thing is that both marketing people and UX professionals are strong believers in research, which greatly simplifies the whole decision making process. (If they are not that kind, please convert them!) Writing the copy UX conscientiously lowers the barriers between the two. Maybe a UX Writer with a background in both – if such “multipotentialite” personalities exist – fits best. 🙂
UX writing is not just about the copy
We tend to over-generalize that people don’t read anymore, which might rather refer to the length of textual content we can process at a time in a digital context. However, people now communicate beyond the UX of our reading habits and interact not just with each other but also with digital interfaces or no-interface systems. If we consider the diversity of examples from conversational interfaces to voice user interfaces or gesture-based interfaces, we start to get the idea why I keep mentioning UX writing instead of UX copywriting.
UX Designer or a dedicated UX Writer?
Short answer: somebody who is dedicated to solve all the aforementioned challenges and many more.
Yes, all the paragraphs above were aiming to skip the best-practices of good microcopy (as many have done it before) and lift up the UX Designers (no irony here) and the value of the UX writing skillset.
There are many debates whether design jobs should be fragmented as much as they are. At UX Studio, Designers take part in each and every phase of product design. Accompanied with a UX Researcher, they go through the process of product discovery, sketching, wireframe prototyping and also create the final UI. This works for an agency with multiple small products. However, fragmenting the different phases of product design also makes sense in the case of a complex, large-scale project.
I believe that one of the most important advantages of not fragmenting the profession is that if you actively participate in all phases of the product design process as a Designer, you have a clear overview of everything which consequently supports the quality of the content and thus the copy itself. The need for a dedicated professional for the content increases in direct proportion with the complexity of the product, the time frame and the fragmentation of the UX tasks. The higher they are, the more necessary it is.
In bigger teams they usually introduce a design system, which also contains extensive guides on tone and voice. As the team grows it will be more and more difficult to maintain a coherent voice without a UX writer.
Who is a UX Writer after all?
Until this point, I was trying my best to avoid the term “content strategy” as most might rather associate it with marketing (eg. social media) presence, which is not the subject of this article. However, the profession of UX Writer definitely overlaps with that of a content strategist in some respects. In fact, the relationship of UX and content strategy was already called a modern love story in 2011. <3
The overlap already strengthens the fact that the UX Writer position refers to a strongly cross-functional team member. In some respects, some of the following tasks encourage me to say that UX Writers are some kind of new UX Unicorn. 🙂
Let’s see what a UX Writer does:
- Has a clear overview of the product from the product discovery phase;
- Maintains and develops tone of voice and the style guide;
- Collaborates in building the information architecture;
- Collaborates in content strategy building;
- Writes concise copy and/or collaborates with the technical writer;
- Builds and scales editorial processes (eg. translations);
- Uses data and research to evaluate content
If you review the compiled list of UX Writer job descriptions by Kristina Bjoran, my short summary list appears very superficial. Nonetheless, it already reflects the complexity and the facts that collaboration is the key, and crafting the best content is rarely a one-man show. The question is if you need anyone to navigate in between.
From a product design and development perspective, it’s important to recognize whether the time has come to hire a dedicated UX Writer or not.
Let’s make this article as a conversation starter!