What is UX Writing? And why is it an essential component of any digital product design?
Let’s do a fun exercise together. Pull up your favorite song on Spotify or YouTube and give it a quick listen. What sticks out to you the most?
Is it the masterful composition? The energy and vibe? Or maybe a lyric that really hits home? Are you blown away by how much emotion a songwriter packs into a simple line with their word choice?
Now picture your favorite song without those lyrics. Sure, it sounds pretty on its own, and maybe you can paint a picture in your mind — but something FEELS incomplete.
This is the idea behind UX writing. If your favorite app didn’t have any written content, you would only have some cool designs to look at. You would have no idea how to use it to accomplish your goals. The UX/UI design might as well be wall art at that point.
Just like your favorite song, digital products need UX writing to compliment the tone of the design, communicate ideas, lay out directions, and support the overall experience. And we’ll show you how to use your brand identity to craft your website’s “lyrics.”
What is UX Writing?
There are multiple types of writing out there, so we need to draw some distinctions.
The three common types of business writing are copywriting, technical writing, and UX writing. All three require strong analytical skills to break down concepts and communicate them in ways that are easy to understand.
Copywriting has a strong focus on marketing. Copywriters persuade the audience into buying their products, fulfilling a “want.” The goal is to bring in new customers, appeal to their desires, and talk them into making a purchase.
Technical writing is much more complex. It’s all about communicating complex information and processes in a easy way for the end user to understand and implement. In the UX/UI design field, this usually means material related to computer software and consumer electronics.
If you need an example of a technical document, dig in your miscellaneous drawer and grab the box your iPhone came in (because we know you’re saving it for SOME reason). The instructional manual has to show the average user how to set it up and how to use it.
UX writing combines copywriting and technical writing, but with a different endgame in mind. Simply put, copywriting sells, technical writing teaches, and UX writing solves.
The emphasis is on the user’s journey in UX writing. We’re writing for existing users, focusing on solving a problem and achieving a goal. In this scenario, there is no room for the abstract, so keep it simple and don’t overthink it.
The Characteristics of UX Writing
While most copywriting services give you plenty of room to explore ideas, UX writing has a few more intricacies. Unless we’re writing a blog or some other long-form piece for a client, we are usually working with limited space.
Like a songwriter that packs a big punch with a well-written lyric, the copy on your digital product needs to communicate a lot while saying so little.
UX design is driven by empathy for the user — and our designs wouldn’t be as impactful without written content. Being unrelatable is NOT an option.
It’s all about putting yourself in the user’s shoes and understanding how to communicate with them on behalf of the client. In UX writing, we need to know exactly what to say and when to say it to strike the perfect chord with our audience.
When you’re writing, always be thinking about what the user wants to hear and how the client can get them to the finish line.
It’s worth repeating every time: our online attention spans are short. We don’t have time or room to write a college dissertation about how amazing our clients are.
We have to reel in the audience with some thoughtful copy, help them understand the big picture, and get them where they need to go. Not only does the content need to be written well, but it needs to be structured perfectly in order of importance.
Utilizing active voice helps UX writers be as clear and unambiguous as possible, but it’s also on the UX writer to cut down on wordy sentences and paragraph length. Just remember the last time you looked at an enormous paragraph and thought “Nah, I’m not reading that” (even if the answer lies within).
The client’s digital product is often the face of their brand. We cannot (under any circumstances) lose the client’s voice and tone for the sake of brevity.
After all, the client’s communication style plays a big part in shaping the user experience. We form our designs around these identities, and copy that does not support the look and feel makes for a disjointed and awkward experience.
Be aware of UX writing constraints, but let your imagination run wild within them. Form some key messages that sum up the client’s purpose and weave them throughout the written content with some clever, inventive word choices.
Establishing Voice and Tone
Whether the client already has their voice and tone set in stone or needs help creating them, they are absolutely crucial in creating copy that resonates with the user.
Think about a high-end luxury watch company. If you go to their website, notice how the messaging isn’t all over the place. It’s smooth, suave, and succinct. You get the big picture of their personality and target customer just from reading a few headlines and buzzwords.
This is because they have an established voice and tone — a style and flair that shapes the storytelling and breathes life into written content.
A company’s communication style plays a massive part in their brand identity. Sometimes it’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions a brand. Take Wendy’s for example…is the first thing you think of their square burgers or their savage Twitter roasts?
Voice characteristics are like personality traits. Let’s stack the watch company and Wendy’s against each other. If they were people, they’d live completely different lives. How would you describe the brand if they were a real person?
Voice and Tone Discovery
Like all things UX, you’ll get the best idea of the characteristics your copy needs to emulate by talking directly to the end-user. Your interviews will show you how to play into the communication style that resonates with them.
Client interviews are also super helpful because they likely already have an idea of what their brand is about and who their users are. They’ll likely have some key messages about what makes their brand the best and know how they want the user to feel when reading those messages.
The user knows how they like to be talked to. They also know when they’re being pandered to. And the client knows what they’re all about and the audience they want to reach. It’s up to the UX writer to fine-tune that research into characteristics that make a brand stand out.
Ask these questions to hone in on voice characteristics that work for the client and audience:
Client Interview Questions
- How would you define your brand?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a brand?
- Who are your biggest competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses as a brand?
- What sets you apart from your competitors?
- Why should your audience choose your brand?
- What are some other brands/communication styles you admire?
- Who is your target audience? Define them in three words.
- Are there any keywords we should include?
User Interview Questions
- What brands do you gravitate to? Why?
- What are your opinions of the client’s product? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- Why do you keep using the client’s product?
- What drives your purchasing decisions?
- What is most important to you when using a website/mobile app?
- Where do you mostly use digital products? Desktop, mobile, iPad, etc.
- What turns you away from buying/using products?
- What are some of your favorite/least favorite marketing campaigns?
15 Tips for UX Writing
From Hemingway to Wilde and even Taylor Swift, we all have different writing processes. A special routine to help us get in the zone to write a masterpiece of literature (or just some really great digital product copy).
So brew a fresh pot of coffee, put on your favorite playlist to get in the right headspace, and keep these UX writing tips in the back of your mind.
- Be concise. If a sentence is feeling wordy, it is!
- Write for an 8th-grade audience. Not everyone visiting your page is an industry expert.
- Keep your interview notes and voice and tone guidelines handy for quick reference.
- Review brand and style guides beforehand to make sure everything gels.
- Look at competitor messaging and consider how it could be improved.
- Avoid jargon whenever possible. If you have to, explain it in the most basic terms.
- Present tense and active voice are your best friends.
- Use SEO keywords like spices – don’t overdo it!
- Keep a thesaurus by your side to vary up your vocabulary.
- Draft alternate copy to explore more ideas and give the client choices.
- Empathize with the user by leading with the primary goal of the page.
- Keep copy consistent and on-brand.
- Peer reviews are super useful for exploring ideas and catching errors.
- Keep your headlines and microcopy as short as you can.
- Utilize bulleted lists to your advantage to make content scannable.
Who Can Help Me With UX Writing?
Allow us to throw our banana into the ring!
If you need us to take care of the whole design from beginning to end or just need help writing copy for a landing page, we’ve got you covered.
On top of our expert UX/UI design and full-stack web development teams, we also have an in-house UX writing team to provide copywriting services for all your digital products. Websites, mobile apps, product copy, blogs, investor decks, scripts, social media content — you name it, we can write it.
We’ll work with you to form a unique voice your audience won't soon forget, then craft copy to solidify your style. And since we work in tandem with our UX/UI designers, all the parts come together like a perfectly-produced top 10 hit.
Like what you're seeing? Do you need to UX-ify the copy for your digital product? Start a project with us today!