How to use voice and tone in UX writing
Voice makes your writing more consistent and tone makes it more empathetic. Together, they make your products easier to use.
The immutable brand voice
At Deliveroo, one of the biggest assets we have is our strong, recognisable brand. It’s a clear personality that’s out there in the world — on rider backpacks and billboards and brilliant TV ads.
It’s a gift to those of us in product. And it’s part of our job is to make sure that brand never waivers. From watching an advert on TV to downloading the app, checking out your order or encountering an error.
But unlike traditional marketing, which is a one-way communication, apps are two-way interactions — they’re conversations, with plenty of back and forth.
And sometimes those conversations get tough. How do we tell a customer their food’s running late in the same brand voice they recognise from our marketing?
Tone makes your voice context-aware
Your voice is who you are. It never changes, from billboard to button text. But, just like in real life, the tone you take depends on who you’re talking to; their context and their emotional state.
You’d probably behave differently towards someone you know well than towards a stranger, or your boss. What if you saw your boss in tears? Or a friend, laughing hysterically? That would affect how you talk to them, too.
The ideal brand voice has to be supported by a range of tones that give it depth. Those tones allow it to adapt to different scenarios, just like our own voices do, while remaining fundamentally the same.
But it’s no mean feat to create a contextual, nuanced brand voice that uses tone appropriately. Especially across multiple teams, scores of writers and all the moving parts of a three-way marketplace.
So, we developed a tool to help our writers find the right brand tone in any scenario. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s helped us go some way towards solving this riddle. Here’s how we did it!
1. Unpack your brand voice
First we mapped the tones that our overarching voice might take. It looks like this:
We show riders, restaurants and customers we’re passionate by being Enthusiastic, Confident and Playful. We express our inclusivity by being Warm and Relatable.
We can dial up and down these tones depending on what we’re saying and who we’re saying it to, but ultimately our Passionate, Transparent and Inclusive nature never changes.
2. Map those tones to emotional states
List out the range of emotional responses that your reader might have when they use your product. Arrange them on a scale so each emotion can overlap with its neighbours.
Then, plot your corresponding brand tones.
Take a piece of content, think about how your user’s feeling in the moment they read the message and circle that spot on the scale. That’ll give you the tone or tones to dial up in your writing.
4. Create writing guidelines for each part of the scale
Now, it’s time to describe how to inhabit these tones in our writing, in a way that’s empathetic to the reader’s emotions.
When they’re Satisfied to Pleased
- One exclamation mark per screen! That’s enthusiastic but not shouty.
- Describe benefits not functions — ‘we’re making it easier to use the app’, not ‘we’ve made some changes to the app’.
- Be Playful, but don’t exclude — will second and third-language speakers get the joke? If not, keep it plain and simple.
When they’re Neutral
- Make your writing warm and relatable by using contractions — ‘you’re’ not ‘you are’. Without them, things can feel robotic.
- Write as you speak — naturally. If you find yourself writing a word you wouldn’t usually say, step back and think how you’d explain the idea to a friend.
- Keep the most important information at the front — don’t make users dig for the details they need. That’s what makes us straight-talking.
When they’re Confused to Angry
- Choose short words whenever you can. They feel calm and reassuring.
- Be honest and direct, not passive. Use `we made a mistake` not `a mistake was made`. The latter feels defensive, like deflecting responsibility.
- Keep your sentence construction simple. One point per sentence. Don’t add qualifying clauses and confusing asides.
- Make your content even simpler than usual — reading comprehension goes down when people experience anxiety (especially if you’re reading in a second or third language).
That’s it! This tool means writing always starts with empathising. And it gives us a way to scale that empathy, consistently, beyond our content design and experience teams.
Are you a content designer, UX writer or content strategist? Come help us build the best food-delivery experience in the world!