top of page

Why UX writing is a crucial web design skill

UX writers give our interfaces a voice, and create context for users. Here’s a look into the art of good website copy.

Illustration by Shai Samana.

Profile picture of Carrie Cousins

7.27.2020

7 min read

A quick Google jobs search will tell you this: UX writers are in demand.

UX writing might be one of the least talked about – and hottest – web design skills on the market right now.

And while UX writing has a lot to do with an overall website or app design, it’s a very different job. It calls for different competencies and requires you to use a separate part of your brain.

Without good UX writing, your design projects will be flat, lack voice and personality, and will provide a subpar experience for users. This is the time to add UX writing to your resume, or dedicated UX writers to your team.



UX writing in a nutshell


User experience writing isn’t the same as general copywriting. It’s a hybrid style of writing that takes some of the best of copywriting and incorporates it with the design process, with a focus on end users.

Good UX writing guides visitors through a website interface in an intuitive way. The writing is like breadcrumbs that lead users to certain content or actions, without the user having to stop and think about what they are doing or how to complete the journey. The more complex a project, the more vital solid UX writing becomes.

Then there’s another layer. UX writing has to be in the right voice and tone to match the personality of the website or brand itself.


A UX writer could be thought of as a product designer because they are part of the full design process and impact every part of website or app creation.

UX writers might do anything from crafting microcopy to clever error messages to notifications or cues to lead users through the design. And their job doesn’t start after the website is designed. UX writing, outlining, and conceptualizing is as much a part of early-stage design as wireframing.

What makes UX writers so valuable is that they can tell stories in a relatable context, that website visitors would enjoy and want to be a part of. They have a knack for turning complex information or instructions into something simple, creative, and engaging.

Strong UX writing is the key to finishing a project with a consistent, and highly usable, design.



Top skills for UX writers


UX writers come from plenty of backgrounds – some are past copywriters, while others have design backgrounds. The commonality is a love for superior user experiences.

The skills UX writers possess include:

  • A design mindset with an understanding of how visuals and text come together to create context.

  • Strong writing capacity with broad vocabulary and ability to change and adjust voice by project.

  • Active listening and research methodology to determine actual wants and needs of users.

  • Networking and relationship-building to marry design and user experience.

  • Desire to keep evolving and learning since this field is fairly new and continuing to change.

  • Ability to work on a collaborative team, manage deadlines, and show flexibility when it comes to editing and revisions.


What makes UX writers so valuable is that they can tell stories in a relatable context, that website visitors would enjoy and want to be a part of.


10 UX writing guidelines


We’re going to let you in on a little insider secret: There are a few principles that every UX writer knows (and follows) to create experiences that demand interaction and engagement.

Add these ideas to your arsenal of tools to help grow your UX writing skill set:

1. Avoid long text blocks. Users don’t read; they scan. Brevity is key.

Avoid long text blocks in UX writing


2. Junk the jargon. You never know who will visit your website. Make it equally understandable for all.

3. Write in active voice. Make users part of the action.

4. Use numerals when possible. Why write out one-hundred when 100 is much more scannable?


In UX writing, use numerals when possible.


5. Dangle carrots that encourage clicking. Provide just enough detail that is necessary to perform an action.

6. Avoid dark patterns with language that are confusing or even misleading, such as use of double negatives or language that makes it hard to opt-out.

7. Start text blocks with the most important information, such as what’s the next step for the user to take in the user journey. Phrasing such as “Click for more” is easier to comprehend than “For more information, click the link.”


State actionable steps for users in UX writing


8. Combine text elements with visual pieces, infographics, and images. Good writing is all about context.

9. Avoid acronyms. You don’t want people to have to guess a meaning, assume an incorrect interpretation, or leave your interface because they have to look something up.

10. Create consistency. The same words, phrasing, instructions, and language should travel throughout a project. Ditch the thesaurus; synonyms can lead to confusion.



UX writing and content creation


One of the things that makes a UX writer a hot commodity is that much of their work doesn’t get any glory … and they are totally ok with it.

UX writers craft the language behind onboarding screens and messages, legal messages and privacy policies, and even checkout instructions. And they have to do it all while adhering to their organization or brand style and guidelines.

Here’s a basic list of content that the average UX writer will provide for a project:

  • User interface text for screens or voice

  • Marketing and support copy in the design

  • Interface microcopy, such as button text

  • Instructions and error messages

  • Copy for pop-ups or chat screens

  • Tooltips

  • Internal or backend metadata

  • Descriptions for settings or product features

Think of the variance between these elements.

Now think of a website you love, and how all these tiny details come together to create an amazing experience. That’s in part to a solid UX writer.



Anatomy of great UX writing


So, what exactly does good UX writing look – and read – like?

Google’s Material Design documentation and the Spotify music player provide two different types of case studies.




Google has invested plenty of time and expertise into the collection of information and guide to using Material Design on the web. It’s a resource that most designers are pretty comfortable with.

The reason you are so comfortable with it – from scanning for certain specifications to perusing examples – is, partly, thanks to its stellar UX writing.

Starting with the homepage and flowing to the smallest details, this massive resource has the right voice, reads in an instructional and active tone, and you never have to pause and think about the writing in order to understand the content.


On the homepage, for example, every block of text is limited to a header and single sentence of description. That’s just enough detail to help you find what you are looking for and keep moving.

The same concept also extends to the inner pages, such as Icons, where there’s more navigational text and microcopy. The pages include a sidebar outlining the information, related content links, and tiny descriptions below each icon. The text is written and designed for varying levels of hierarchy – headers, main copy, and instructional extras – and actionable text. Finally, note the copy inside of the search bar, “Filter by name.” This simple instruction is designed specifically for this page.

The Components section is one of the most complicated in terms of content in the documentation, and perfectly unifies explanatory text, visual elements, interactive features and infographics. Combined, these various assets help designers understand Material Design conventions.


Some of the best UX writing for the projects might be the Dos and Don’ts, which can also be seen in the Components section. Each example includes a visual element with a description of why you should or should not design it this way, such as “Cards don’t flip over to reveal information.” This seamless visual-copy connection shows that the writer and designer worked in concert to ensure that this information was concise, accurate, and understandable.

UX writing works here because:

  • It is concise, friendly, and easy to understand

  • Thumbnails and visuals match the copy

  • It uses an informational and authoritative voice

  • A massive amount of information is displayed in a way that feels manageable

  • Navigation is clear and accessible at all times






Spotify’s music player – desktop and app versions – use UX writing to onboard users, provide information about music and content, and guide their musical user journey.

Every bit of copy is easy to read at a glance. Various design elements for text help differentiate it by application or use, such as song name, artist, or user control (skipping song or changing to a new playlist). Each of these elements looks a little different, including styles for color and weight of text elements.

Most of the writing is exceptionally short, which is even more important on small screens and apps. The generous amount of whitespace in the design makes the copy even easier to scan and read as it relates to image cards on the screen.

Much like the Material Design documentation, this interface is loaded with content. UX writing provides the informational infrastructure to make it navigable and intuitive to use, without going into detailed text instructions. Buttons and markers are clear, labeled simply “Play” or “Pause” based on their actual use.

The most exceptional example of UX writing for Spotify might be in the names and descriptions of their curated playlists. Each of these playlists has an iconic image with the playlist name, description, and information about the duration of the playlist, and number of followers. The playlist “I Love My ‘90s Hip-Hop” is keyworded to a specific genre for search, and includes the following deeper search description: “Real rap music from the golden era.” The textual cues help listeners decide if this is the playlist for them.

UX writing works here because:

  • Calls-to-Action are direct and limited in number, so the user doesn’t have to make too many choices

  • Many of the words on screen can be complicated, like artist and song names. Simple design elements such as color and typography work with the complicated text, not against it

  • Text blocks on the desktop and mobile app are consistent, creating a seamless user experience for those that switch between devices

  • Small text and controls all have associated copy

  • A voice that is inviting and fun, matching app content





UX writing is what creates a conversation between the end user and the design.


Your team needs a UX writer


Whether you work with a design team of one or 100, you need a UX writer.

UX writing is what creates a conversation between the end user and the design. That can translate to pageviews, interactions, specific conversations, and sales. In business terms, a UX writer can help your bottom line.

If you are a design studio of one or a freelancer, it’s a good idea to get familiar with basic UX writing to give your projects a boost. If you are open to collaboration, you might find a UX writer to work with on projects.

Small- to mid-sized teams are beginning to work more with UX writers, adding team members with these skills. In smaller organizations, UX writers might wear multiple hats and also work on digital advertising, marketing copywriting, or even design. It just depends on your background.

Larger teams and companies are already investing in UX writers. After all, great copy can make or break the user experience.



Conclusion


Think of a UX writer as the person speaking directly to website, app, or product users. They are having a conversation about what you do, and encouraging further engagement and interaction.

Everything online – websites, chatbots, product descriptions, and even Siri – functions because of amazing writing that works with the design interface. That’s not something that’s likely to change any time soon.