Put simply: Behave! Why emotions matter in UX writing

Stefani Vujic
Jun 11, 2019 · 3 min read
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As you glance at your screen, you might ask yourself “what do emotions have to do with UX writing?” all the while you should be asking yourself “how am I taking my readers’ emotions into consideration?”. This piece goes out to all the UX writers out there, who have tried getting lost in their readers’ emotions, or — to a greater degree — the writers who never tried to give a damn about these emotions.

“Know your audience” was one of the most repeated phrases during my early years at business school. At the time, I was working part-time in a shoe store. I rarely found it super difficult to read the customers, as they asked for help. Some were open and encouraged, just looking to browse around, others were determined to find something specific, and a third group just came to complain, because — well, these people exist. While years have passed and annoying customers have been forgotten, as a UX writer I still cater to customers’ needs today — only online and through the written word. And even though I don’t have the benefit of the physical encounter to read my customers’ emotional state, it’s still essential to consider them and adjust my tone accordingly.

Ask yourself: what did your user come here for?

A thing to remember: your online customers or users are humans, just like you and I. They can — and do — feel joy and frustration, whether they shop in a store or navigate a website or an app. These feelings influence their decision-making, and as a UX writer, it’s your job to help them fulfill the action they came to fulfill. So why not begin with asking yourself: what did your user come here for?

When talking emotions, a type of message content that always pops into my mind is the infamous 404-page. You know, the page that tells you, that where you’ve ended up effectively doesn’t exist, and tries to be funny at the same time. In my opinion, a page that doesn’t exist is never a good experience. So why do so many of them rely on humor and irony? We’ve come a long way since some of the first 404-pages, surely, but have they become better at considering their users’ emotional state? As far as I can tell, the majority of them haven’t.

A page that doesn’t exist is never a good experience

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In my hypothetical search for legal assistance regarding the imaginary divorce I’m about to file for, I’d choose not to look at this fella. If I had the choice. But I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong; 404-pages can be fun! From a distance. Not when I visit a website to look for sensitive information, and my emotional state is stress, frustration, and confusion. Read your audience online, like you would read your audience in a physical store. And read your 404-pages, error messages and all the other sorry-copy aloud! That is the best way to acid test whether you come across as human or ridiculous. To sum up: Read the room and read aloud.

Essentially, taking your users’ emotions into consideration is — put simply — the act and the art of mirroring them. When you’ve defined what your user came for, you can start defining the tone that fits their emotional state. As a rule of thumb, don’t try to be cute or funny when the user is handling sensitive information, such as medical or financial data. You can never go wrong with a little empathy and good behavior. So behave your best!

To sum up: Read the room and read aloud

Put simply is a string of stories paying homage to the online written word. Its mission? To briefly introduce and audaciously challenge the online user experiences of today.

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