Sustaining Cleverness

From Slack to MailChimp to Dropbox, there is a certain style, an effortless cleverness, that pervades the user experience. It IS the user experience, if you are a customer of those products. You feel its familiarity. You know it, and you relax into it. There’s no friction with those products, because you know who they are, and you know how they speak.

That’s all well and good.

For now.

But time has that way of changing things, and what’s comfortable (come-FORT-able, as Steve Martin would say), changes.

Suddenly, a fortnight passes, and all your Jane Austin fan-peeps are OVER your “oops,” your “uh-ohs,” and your “it’s our prob, not yours.” The kids are grown and the lingo has changed and suddenly, all your darling and innovative microcopy seems dated and out of touch.

What’s a microcopy writer to do?

I think you have to change course, and you have two options. First, you can choose the latest lingo and tone. That will buy you about 18 months. Second, you can choose to go with the tried and true: clear and concise. Leave clever out by the doorstep, give it a nod and a curtsy, and just step outside the microcopy so that nothing of your oh-so-irrelevant self intrudes.

That’s true usability. That where you find out where the ego lives.

Did you know that a majority of US citizens don’t know the difference between types of coffee grind? We, at Weebly, found this out during recent user testing. Unless you live in an urban area, you just might not be fully versed in pour over, drip, espresso, and whole bean. Some of our less urban users were stumped, just on the variation in product terminology.

They sure aren’t going to understand your Community jokes.

Being humble as a UX copy designer means that you get that users may not understand the subtleties of your humor. And that your humor has shelf life of about 6 months before it’s obsolete.

What to do?

Write clearly, simply, in human language that needs no tribe or clique to understand. Always be useful. Always be gentle. Add a bit of personality in if you will, because that is the spice of life, but know its expiration date. And be ready to change.

Kathryn Strauss - @UX_Writers

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