What exactly do UX Writers do?

It’s the latest Silicon Valley ‘hot job’.

Google describes the role as ‘crafting copy that helps users complete the task at hand, whilst Dropbox says ‘Create copy that’s straightforward, helpful and human.’

Sounds familiar? That’s because it’s not a new thing. In many businesses the UX or UI designers throw in the copy. But in some companies, content experts do this. As someone who works alongside UX and Design to make sure the copy we use in our prototypes is as good as it can be. I can explain what a content specialist can bring to UX, and how you benefit from this being a role in itself.

Efficiency

It’s often the case in some companies that a prototype will be built, then ‘thrown over the fence’ for someone to ‘check the words.’

But when content writers collaborate with Design and UX on prototyping, and help with the process, your usability testing gets more realistic results. Users are exposed to something quite close to the end copy. This is important because whether you like it or not, even if you’re only testing functionality, users will get hung up on the words they see before them. The benefit of being able to tweak these words in the context they’ll be seen in, and amend accordingly as you test, is immense.

Context

A content expert is well-versed in the brand’s tone of voice, since they write for other areas of the web. They’re also close to the rest of the customer experience of the brand, as they often work alongside documentation, product and ops teams. Copywriters understand the importance of context, so even if they don’t have this knowledge, they’ll be sure to gain it before they start work on a web journey to make sure the content’s consistent across channels. And by collaborating on prototypes they can identify the parts of the journey that might be incorrect – and help to map unhappy paths.

Design for content

The most important benefit, is that copy and design work hand in hand to create a page where the design is appropriate to the copy and the copy complements the design. If you’re still using the ‘design first, words later’ approach then you may be familiar with your copywriter questioning the logic of a copy box where you might not need any content, or complaining about character restrictions. Or designers complaining that the copywriter’s written too much copy for the space provided!

A/B Testing

Creating a user journey is just the beginning. That journey will be rigorously measured and optimised over time.

UX writing is vital in helping to optimise user journeys. I read a recent quote by Craig Sullivan from Optimise or Die that said ‘I estimate that at least 60+% of my tests got their main lift from optimising the words, the button copy, the headlines, the text decoration, the layout, the scan-ability, readability, comprehension and simplicity of TEXT.’

That means much of your successful optimisation can be delivered by a copywriter simply making your content more compelling or easier to understand.

Going from long-form to short-form

It’s true that in some organisations the content function is there simply to serve marketing and brand teams, either by creating long-form copy or managing the brochureware page content. But those organisations are missing a trick.

It does take a certain skill to switch from this rich long-form content production into writing short-form functional copy.

Functional copy for a mobile-first approach to journey design needs to be minimal. UX writing is about micro-copy (and micro-detail – you need to understand each and every possible user path!). Sometimes you may need to communicate with just a word or two (or even no words at all). Reducing something complicated to a small explanation that’s accessible to all requires a different skill-set to writing a long-form article.

An intuitive web journey is one where the copy doesn’t need to be thought about by the user – they won’t even notice the words, because they blend seamlessly into the overall experience.

In my business we’ve moved towards real collaborative working between UX, Design, and Content, and we’ve all benefitted from this approach.

So I’d strongly advocate the investment in UX writing – because the right words will elevate your web designs, and your users’ experiences, and reap rewards for your business.