Put simply: Improve your UX writing skills with behavioural psychology

Stefani Vujic
May 3, 2019 · 3 min read

Do you ever consider how you make decisions about everyday things? If you’re like most of us the answer is ‘rarely’. This article lets you in on the fundamentals of thinking fast and slow and how to use it when writing for online user experiences.

Whether you’re a UX writer, a UX designer or merely a mortal you’re most likely exposed to online decision-making on a daily basis; when shopping, filling out a form on a website, navigating in an app and so on and so forth. Some decisions require more thought than others, surely — but that doesn’t mean that they should be wrapped in a complex context. As a UX writer, I believe in creating user experiences and actions that are easily decoded — which seldom is an easy task to go about. In fact, the most simple headlines, flows or call-to-actions are usually the ones that require the most time and patience!

So how does one create actions that are easy to decode? In my daily work, I take inspiration from behaviourism — or behavioural psychology — and the theory of thinking fast and slow.

In 2011, the Israeli-American psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman published the bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow. In the book, he introduces two cognitive systems with which all of us use to make decisions: system 1 and system 2. Put simply, we activate system 1 when making fast, instinctive, often unconscious and, even more often, emotional decisions. Putting one foot in front of the other — also known as walking — activates system 1. System 2 is for complex decisions that require deliberate, conscious and analytical thinking. Filling in your tax return or reciting the alphabet backwards activates system 2.

Image for post
Image for post

What does the above have to do with writing for online user experiences? Almost everything! My reprimand to all UX writers out there: eliminate writing that forces your users to activate system 2 and start creating clear messages that your users can easily decode with system 1. Just like UX designers, UX writers should tailor the user experience to its desired action. Where the designer’s task is to visually structure the action, the writer’s responsibility is to simplify what the action contains. This happy marriage between the designer and the writer is the foundation of easily decoded and successful experiences.

Think of the theory on system 1 and system 2 as a tool for orientation rather than a one-size-fits-all tool. It’s not. But regardless of the message or experience’s content and consequences, our task as UX writers is to make it understandable, relatable and navigable — in other words, easy to decode.

Use the theory as a guide to create content that reduces complexity, not significance. Make it simple, but not superficial. By creating easily decoded messages you contribute to a seamless experience your users can relate to — and they will love you for it.

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.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade