Emotional context matters everywhere

A strong UX design process considers the complexity of a multifaceted personality

Creating a digital personality

I just stumbled onto something new in Microsoft Word. The UI in the backstage greeted me with a simple, “Good morning.” It felt friendly. And that’s an important point — I felt something.

I care about this because I am designer of personality, surrounded by a team of excellent personality designers. For over five years, we’ve written what Microsoft Cortana says with a creative eye on how she says it. So, a “Good morning” from Cortana might push a little farther into the playful realm with, “Hope you have a tremendously outstanding day.”

I am also part of a team…


A very short Q+A with a design evangelist and leader

No modern designer speaks to the power of language in design with a deeper understanding than John Maeda. And we would be smart to pay attention to his words.

His career pedigree is stunning: tenured research professor at the MIT Media Laboratory, 16th President of the Rhode Island School of Design, former VP of Design at Kleiner Perkins, former Global Head of Computational Design and Inclusion at Automattic, he received the White House’s National Design Award, and his work can be found in the permanent collection of MOMA. Did I mention he’s written four books? And last week, Publicis Sapient…


How UX writing shows our human side

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In this series on the Microsoft Voice principles, we’re sharing some of our internal videos about writing with the content design community. This week, we explore the third principle: ready to lend a hand.

The principle of being ready to lend a hand reminds us to keep our eye on what the customer might need in any given moment. It asks us to keep a humble tone that can genuinely bring a listening spirit. For example, when throwing an error message at your customer, give them a solution to try rather than…


How UX writing should focus on your customer

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In this series on the Microsoft Voice principles, we’re sharing some of our internal videos about writing with the larger content design community. This week, we explore the second Microsoft Voice principle: crisp and clear.

This one is about simplicity. It pushes us to create with less ambiguity, using a design approach that prioritizes scanning. And that doesn’t necessarily mean less words. In fact, we try to move focus away from the words we write and toward the people who read them. For example, how much heavy lifting are you asking your…


How we take UX writing just seriously enough

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In this series on the Microsoft Voice principles, we’re sharing our philosophy behind how we write. This week, we focus on the first Microsoft Voice principle: being warm and relaxed. I’m a big fan of this one, because it looks our technical roots square in the eye and says, “Dude, loosen up.” Kind of.

We know that there are opportunities in products and experiences for fun language, but humor is hard. It should only be applied selectively and in very small doses. Creating a UX that is warm and relaxed requires intentional…


How our UX writing principles keep us from sounding like robots

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This is how we write

Last year, we shared our philosophy on why better words make better products. In her article, Ashley Walls describes the systems that we use at Microsoft to ensure our writing is aligned not only to one cohesive style but also to one voice, reminding us that we’re all people and should “talk to each other that way.” I enjoy the controversy of the Oxford comma as much as any writer, but I’m more passionate about this idea of humanness.

The writers at Microsoft focus our writing on humanness through constant interpretation of…


A history of designing Cortana’s personality

I’ve had some pretty cool jobs: Malibu bartender, forest firefighter, screenwriter, face painter. But they pale in comparison to my current gig. Three-and-a-half years ago, I was given the opportunity to lead the team that writes for Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana. This means we are responsible not only for what she says, but also for the continued development and design of Cortana’s personality. It’s been a dream job for all of us. …

Jonathan Foster

Co-creator of code:words, we curate stories and insights about writing in tech. I also work at Microsoft (views=my own) working on some cool stuff.

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