The challenges of being a UX writer

Riri Nagao

I’ve been with American Express as a UX writer for six months. Being a UX writer has been both exciting and challenging. I love what I do because I’m working on interesting products with smart and supportive colleagues who help me grow. But advocating for a relatively new practice within design doesn’t come easy.

1. The UX of the English language is terrible
English is such a flawed language with many inconsistencies. There are more exceptions to the rules than the rules themselves. (Yup, English is awful.) As a UX writer, it’s extremely difficult to communicate tasks in a simple manner and embed empathy when the language isn’t designed to do so. It’s hard to build trust with users and be concise when words play games and meanings can easily shift when out of context.

2. The process is always misunderstood
UX writing, as well as design and research, isn’t always seen as disciplines with complex processes. I’ve written a post on my process and why it’s important for me to be involved in product discussions from the very beginning. A misunderstood process leads to mismatched expectations for deliverables and timelines. Maneuvering through that is hard but a good opportunity to educate others on the value of what I do.

3. Content is rarely a top priority
People view content as an afterthought because it’s a tech skill that doesn’t require knowing a sophisticated software program. Anyone can sit in front of a computer and type out words. Because of this, we’re seen as folks who fill in the blanks when designs are finalized. In reality, however, content has small nuances with big implications so the time and effort it takes to produce good copy is severely misunderstood and de-prioritized.

4. It’s hard to maintain a healthy consumption/production ratio
To keep my writing skills sharp, I need to read a lot. My ideal ratio is 70 to 30 (for reading to writing). But I’m not reading enough to offset the amount of writing I’m doing. I’d like to be up-to-date on the latest industry news and improve my process. How else can I create value for others if I’m not continuously learning? I might start integrating unplugged time blocks on my calendar so I force myself to disconnect and read without distractions.

5. I have to fight logic
Writing requires good logic but the catch 22 is that people don’t always read with logic (or at all, really). My writing should to be good enough to help users accomplish their tasks but also follow a logical narrative arc, which can be conflicting. If I have to break apart information that’s conventionally combined or repeat the same line of copy on every single screen to get the message across, I need to get comfortable doing so.

6. Editing my own work is hard
Oftentimes, editing my own work feels like unfamiliar territory. Contrary to popular belief, editing one’s own work is considered a different skill from editing other people’s work. I don’t have a problem with over-writing but when it comes to filtering ideas and refining, it’s hard to rely on myself. This is where great colleagues come in. I need people to keep me honest and call me out because good writers still let simple mistakes slip out.

7. Writing for design is emotionally taxing
Writing itself isn’t the culprit for the emotional fatigue. Rather, it’s the end-to-end process of being misunderstood, underrepresented, and sparsely complimented that gets taxing. Writer’s block isn’t just the inability to write well. It’s also battling complacency and emptiness. Content ownership is already slippery so staying resilient and committed to the job when it feels like the world is against me is part of the struggle.

8. I’m not sure if I’m doing the right thing
The UX writing role is relatively new and defined differently based on various design teams and companies. Navigating through this obscure landscape makes me constantly question whether I’m doing the right thing. I sometimes doubt the value I’m adding to the design and product industry. Writing is definitely the new unicorn tech skill but with great power comes great responsibility (and ambiguity).

As someone on a design team, I approach challenges not as setbacks but as opportunities to create solutions and educate others on my discipline. I’ve enjoyed the process of finding a good groove with each of the designers I collaborate with. I don’t foresee these challenges going away but I know that as I acquire experience and wisdom, I’ll be better equipped with tools to deliver more value to the people I work with and the customers I serve.

Cheers,

Riri


Originally published at https://www.ririnagao.com on May 19, 2019.

Riri Nagao

Written by

UX writer, content designer, wordsmith...or something like that? I love to run and eat. ririnagao.com

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