How good copy can solve UX problems

As a Product Designer you are basically what people in tech call a ‘unicorn’: research, IA, UX, UI, interaction design, you name it. Your day to day job is a mix of all those small pieces, working together to achieve the ultimate goal: building a great product.

Sometimes during the design process we focus more on one area and deprioritise the others, so today I’m gonna get a bit more into one of the things that should never be left out: writing copy.

Why is copy so important?

Writing copy is one of the essential parts in Product Design. A clear message is what keeps the user informed while he’s trying to achieve his goal. Copy should be clear, accurate and concise, it should provide context and it should be understandable by anyone, regardless of their culture or language.

Having good copy is a fast and reliable way to solve basic UX problems. Because of its importance, it shouldn’t be done at the end, but as part of the design process.

How much do users read?

In order to understand what’s the best way to communicate we first need to acknowledge what/how much users read. A few years back Nielsen Norman Group started doing a study on user behaviour, and the results are pretty straightforward:

  • 79% of users scan a page for keywords, headlines, bulleted lists or ideas.
  • Only 19% of users read a page word by word.
  • E-mail newsletters are being read even more abruptly than websites.

This proves once again how distracted our users are, and gives us a good reason to integrate copy in our day to day design process.

Functionality

As Product Designers, our input on copy should happen strictly on the functional areas. For example, writing clever jokes or using funny terms might seem like it’s creating an emotional connection between you and the user, but on the other side it might dilute the message — resulting with a poor-converting feature.

Functional areas:

  • Call-to-action buttons
  • Labels
  • Instructions
  • Persuasive text

Of course there are other things to be taken in consideration — tone of voice, niceness and so on — but those shouldn’t interfere with the general goal of achieving clarity.

Patterns

A huge part of user-centered design is formed of patterns, thoroughly tested by native platforms and already used by millions of users. Even though patterns are mostly popular in UX, there are some things you should have in mind when working on copy as well.

  • Call-to-action: Verb + Advantage + Urgency. This removes any uncertainty and gives the user a clear understanding of the action he’s about to perform.
  • Labels: Labels should be easy to scan and read. Avoid using more words than needed — ”The area you live in” is less clear than ”Postcode”.
  • Instructions: Make the instructions clear and simple. The sole purpose is to help the user understand what are the benefits/consequences of his future action.
  • Persuasive text: Headline + Body. Get the user’s attention by giving him the smallest amount of information needed in the Headline. Start explaining more in the Body section in order to achieve your goal. Make sure everything’s clear by using only one idea per paragraph.

Good to know

Be considerate when trying to integrate playfulness on functional areas. Even though writing funny headlines might be hard to resist, there are some general hints that will help you achieve a good balance between functionality and niceness:

  • Be clear and concise
  • Write in the present
  • Use simple words
  • Have a friendly tone of voice
  • Don’t use more words than needed

Testing on copy

In order to have practical value you need to treat copy the same way you treat UI/UX changes. Copy needs the same amount of validation, so releasing an A/B or Multivariate test can help you identify potential problems and even define general patterns.

  1. A/B Testing: Test 1,2 variants of the same text.
  2. Multivariate testing: Test combinations of Headline + Body (H1 +B1, H1 + B2, H2 + B1, H2 + B2).

As always, I hope this article is making it a bit more clear why copy is one of the easiest ways to achieve a good experience, and why it should be treated with the same importance as any design change.


I’m Dan, Product Designer living and working in sunny London. If you enjoy what you’re reading don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m also on Twitter.
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