Hot damn! We writers never had it so good — and we all know the reason why: the written word has never been as pervasive, powerful or emotionally loaded as it is today.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a copywriter, UX writer, journo, speech writer, influencer, blogger, swivel-eyed Facebook ranter or whatever. You’re still a writer: a purveyor of select truths, a builder of ideological edifices and a creator of emotive constructs. You’re a shaper and destroyer of worlds.

At the very least you help other people maintain their existing worldviews, no matter how dangerous or ridiculous they may seem.

A graphical representation of the Arecibo message — basically a form of spam that (probably) nobody will read.

We very much enjoy nibbling on the question of the existence (or absence) of other life elsewhere in the universe. Many astonishingly clever people have already discussed the problem at length — and perhaps far more than one might expect, given how little we actually know about the subject.

(That includes me. I don’t know anything useful, but I’m going to pretend that I do for the purposes of this article.)

When it comes to searching for ET we have a problem with definitions and data sets, or rather the lack of both. …

TL;DR: Building your own worlds is creative, easy — and it will bring you joy. Try it.

Still here? Good, because world building isn’t reserved for successful ‘creative’ types who endlessly churn out novels while wearing silly hats. You can build worlds too. You can also wear the silly hats if you really want to.

In fact, you’re already building a world. Your life is a story set in a universe that you partially control. It’s this world, our shared world.

No really. Strictly speaking your Pinterest board is an exercise in world building: you’re creating a reality based on…

Three handy hats to help create more silences in your UX copy

Saint Anne (detail), 8th century, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

One remarkable thing about COVID-19 is the silence that settled in its wake. The streets are empty. There’s hardly any air traffic. For the first time in my life I’ve enjoyed doing the grocery shopping. The few stores that are open are serene, like libraries.

Here’s a intriguing notion: one might argue that the last time our world was this quiet was before the Industrial Revolution kicked off, some two centuries ago. The satanic mills are largely silent. It’s as if modern civilization just hit the Pause button.

Look, I want the copy to be good. It’s my job to care. I like to thump my chest and bellow about how our software will absolutely fail if we don’t look after the words.

Most of the time I mean it. Most of the time it’s true.

But if your software is really well designed, the words matter a lot less. Think about it. Nobody has ever said:

I love this app! It’s true that the UI looks like a flayed possum. It’s also true that the user experience feels like aggravated neural assault — but you know what…

The Eternal Question Of Time — Painting by Darwin Leon

UX writers are constantly harried for little bits of copy — sometimes for scenarios or features we know nothing about. Most often our natural instinct is to dive right into it. After all, we’re awfully busy. Best to get the small stuff out of the way.

Well and good, but consider asking these questions before you write anything:

1. ‘What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?’

A bit of a cliché, I admit, but this can be a spectacularly difficult question to answer — especially if you’re dealing with an inexperienced designer. But ask the question anyway, because you need to understand context in which you’re writing.

For…

Over the years I half convinced my employer (an African mega bank) that UX copy is an important Thing that deserves active inclusion in the design process. Now that we UX writers are stricken with the curse of legitimacy, I’ve started working on how best we can automate the job of delivering UX copy.

We reuse design components. Why not do it with UX copy?

Reusing design components isn’t a new idea. A UI designer typically designs a button only once before dumping it into a template or a design system where it snugly waits until it’s summoned for future re-use. Similarly, UX designers build flows based on established patterns and…

‘The screen looks kinda empty. Can we add some more copy?’

Ah, you’d like to add words to fill your unintended white space? Let’s start with ‘No’ and ‘Never’.

‘It’s just… well… can we make this copy more punchy?’

Also known as ‘make it pop’ in UI design circles. Commonly uttered by people who have nothing useful to add to a review.

‘Keyword stuffing isn’t a big deal. Everybody does it.’

Papa Google can see what you’re doing. Stop it, or you’ll go blind. Seriously, what year are you from?

‘This is a copy problem, not a design problem.’

No. Copy is part of design, so it’s everybody’s problem.

‘This is a design problem, not a copy problem.’

See above.

‘What’s the character limit for this component?’

There isn’t really such a thing. Three characters could be WWW or iii. Rather ask ‘Up to how many lines should this copy be?’ …

I’m a writer by trade. To me, words come easy — but people are complex. As a content strategist and de facto manager who looked after three UX writers, I’ve learned some hard lessons along the way.

Since two of my writers recently emigrated (not my fault AFAIK) it seemed like a good time to think about what helps keep a UX copy team sane and productive. So, here it goes…

1. Create a content strategy & use it to brief your UX writers

Most features / projects we work on require specific guidelines that define what words we should use, why we use them, along with how and when. A content strategy…

(This idea belongs to my colleague Chanetsa Mukahanana, a UI messiah by trade. So why am I writing this? Because I work with UX copy. I also want to dilute the credit he’ll receive and clearly doesn’t deserve.)

One day my smartass colleague sauntered over and asked me an irritating / intriguing question: When do users need copy — and why?)

UX copy as the orphan of design

UX copy traditionally takes a backseat to UX / UI components. Very often, features are designed independently of a writer until the software goes into dev, at which point we’re asked to ‘do the copy’. That never ends well…

Jürgen Zimmermann

UX writer at Sketch | SF author

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