Interaction designers are professional (micro) copywriters too

I’ve been designing interactive websites and apps for almost 15 years and words are a big part of what I do. When I design an online form the words I choose for a field label, or a button, are central to the usability and wider experience of using that form. On a typical interactive web page there will be some input boxes and possibly some images, but the words are arguably the most important element.

A couple of years ago I ran some user testing for Bristol City Council, and the results lead us to change the wording of a form label from “driver license number” to “renewal reference number”. Changing those 2 words reduced the average completion time for the page by over 70%.

Sometimes I spend hours honing and editing down labels and instructional text on a page to make it clear and reduce clutter. Then I test the design with real users in a lab and make changes. Similarly, if I’m designing an IA I might run an open card sort with users to explore the right category labels: should we call those things ‘activities’, ‘challenges’ or ‘things to do’? So words are a big part of my job.

These days as a freelancer I increasingly find myself working in teams alongside content designers. It can get tricky. On one occasion I was told that, although my design was great, they would normally need a content designer to rewrite the microcopy because “you’re not a professional, qualified copywriter”. And it made me think. Yes I am, actually. That’s exactly what I am.

We need content designers. We need people who specialise in words and positioning. People who love writing tone-of-voice documents. But this is not a different discipline, somehow separate from being a UX’er. Having someone who is super brilliant at writing does not mean that no-one else should be allowed to write stuff. Or that their words automatically need to be thrown out and re-written. We need to be flexible and play to people’s strengths. On some projects a content designer will be absolutely essential. Other times you might not need one. It’s great that UX is evolving and we have all these new specialisms: UX writers, content designers, etc. But let’s not get too siloed about it. And let’s not forget that experienced interaction designers are, by the very nature of the work we do, professional writers too.