What is UX writing?

Portrait of Tobias Brockie
By Tobias Brockie

17 October 2019

What is UX writing and why is it important? Find out how the implementation of good UX copy can have huge benefits for an app or website.

User experience (UX) writing is about using words to facilitate the best user experience possible. Even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve seen it before. Whether it's Facebook asking you 'What's on your mind?' to update your profile. Or a GOV.UK service asking you to 'Enter your passport details'. Or even the search bar on the Airbnb website saying 'Try "Lisbon"'.

This last example demonstrates thoughtful UX writing. Rather than simply saying ‘search’, it gives you some gentle guidance about how to get the best results. The word ‘try’ adds an element of playful exploration – it’s not asking you to search, it’s asking you to try new things. It’s only a couple of words, but it’s telling you all you need to get started.

UX writers need to be part copywriter, part content designer, and part UX designer. They make sure every word in an interface is there to help users complete a task.

Let’s take a closer look at how UX writing works.

Know your users

Before we build anything, we need to know:

  • who the users are
  • what they’re trying to do and why
  • how they want to do it

User research will go a long way towards determining our approach. We’ll do interviews with users, look at analytics, view feedback, and conduct testing to find out the best approach.

On desktop, Google Maps' search prompt is simply 'Search Google Maps'. On mobile, it's 'Where are you going?'.

These are both the same services with the same features. But the search prompts here reflect the different tasks people have on different devices: asking ‘where are you going?’ reflects the immediacy of mobile use by letting you know what to type, and giving you a good idea of what you can expect.

Know yourself

Every online interaction is a conversation between the interface and its users. But users won’t want to continue the conversation if they don’t like you.

That’s why you need to know who you are. Is your brand formal or informal? How you approach a piece of copy can depend on what kind of business you have, what kind of message you’re sending, and who your users are.

We use the messaging service Slack a lot at Storm ID, and it’s an example of a great, consistent tone. The welcome message from its chatbot-like service Slackbot says, "Hi Slackbot here! Feel free to ask me simple questions about Slack, such as: How do I add a profile photo?".

From this we can tell that Slack is friendly, fun and focused on productivity. It’s also given us several ways to get started, both talking to Slackbot and getting started using the app.

Personality is also about managing tone. A little empathy goes a long way: recognising and placating a frustrated user will help to stop them from ragequitting, never to return.

Knowing your tone and sticking to it consistently will go a long way towards deepening trust and loyalty from your users.

No writer is an island

UX writing is an integral part of the design process. UX writers need to be sociable: they work closely with designers, developers and researchers to make sure user-centred design is considered at every step of the process. From initial wireframing through to build and testing, UX writing is a crucial part of a build.

How we can help

And that concludes our whirlwind tour of UX writing.

Our design team can help with the user experience of your product, making sure it’s optimised to help your users do whatever it is they need to do.