Sophie Tahran, InVision
I’m the first UX Writer at InVision, the product design platform used by 80% of the Fortune 100. Before InVision, I wore a bunch of hats at Lyft for nearly 4 years.
How did you get into UX writing?
I’m a big reader, which I think inspires a lot of people to write. I just wasn’t sure I could make it a full-time thing until college, when I started keeping a basic travel blog about my time studying abroad in Cairo, Egypt. It was originally just meant to keep family up-to-date — and then I ended up getting evacuated to Jerusalem during some of the first uprisings of the Arab Spring. Long story short, I had a lot more to write about after that and decided to run with it.
Once I got back to school, I was accepted into our Professional Writing program with a focus in copyediting. At the time, I chose that focus just because I loved the idea of making sure every single word, letter, and punctuation mark serves a purpose. But in the end, it came in handy for UX writing, where you’re pretty limited on real estate on something like a phone screen.
I eventually joined Lyft and wrote a little bit of everything — knowledge base content, driver-facing communication, texts, radio scripts, go-to-market materials, the whole enchilada. I loved working on new products, and kept moving farther up the lifecycle until I eventually partnered with the Product Design team on UX writing.
Seeing Lyft grow that much — from 100 to 2,000 employees — was an incredible experience, one I wouldn’t trade for the world. I didn’t think I’d have an opportunity like that again, until a friend mentioned that InVision was looking for their first UX writer.
What does a normal day look like?
My day is shaped by the fact that InVision is a fully distributed company — all 500+ of our employees work from home in 25+ countries worldwide.
Most of my team (Product Design) is in Europe, so we have our design reviews during my mornings. I sit in on them to make sure I understand the thinking that goes into each decision, and so copy is part of the design process, instead of being tacked on at the end. It takes time, but it’s worth it.
They sign off at around lunchtime my time, which means I have quiet afternoons to do deep work. I’m our only UX writer right now, so I write anything that lives in our products and features, including naming, onboarding flows, alerts, and empty states.
I also try to spend time advocating for UX writing, since it’s a new-ish role: chatting with new hires, building out processes, working on our style guide, etc. Some days I don’t have any time to do this kind of work, others it’s my entire afternoon, but I really try not to let it slip.
What are the top 3 apps you use?
Slack is definitely number one. With everyone being remote, that’s our main form of communication. I’ve also gotten really into Headspace lately — their animations, content, and design blow me away every single time. And I’m still a Lyft loyalist. Old habits die hard.
Where do you go and what do you do for inspiration?
I try to start off my day on Dribbble or Medium instead of diving straight into work. They help me take a step back from the nitty-gritty of copy and refocus on the big picture. I’m also always inspired by other UX writers. We have amazingly talented, generous people here in San Francisco, so I always jump at the chance to meet up.
Are there any books or blogs you’d recommend?
Can I recommend Medium in general? There are so many great articles there: anything by John Saito, Aarron Walter, or the UX Collective is a good start. I’m also in a couple of Facebook groups (like Microcopy & UX Writing) and the Content + UX Slack group.
As for books, a friend recommended About Face when I was first getting into UX writing. It’s about interaction design, not writing, but helped me orient myself with the industry overall.
What have you worked on that you’re most proud of?
One that always comes to mind is Express Pay, the first-of-its-kind feature that allows Lyft drivers to get paid instantly. We were excited about it from the start because it’s such a win for drivers, and those are the people who truly power Lyft. It was really powerful to hear how much it affected their day-to-day — we’d get notes from people saying that it helped them pay for their groceries or vet bill instead of having to wait a week for a direct deposit.
On a personal level, it was also the first time I served as lead writer on a product launch. I absolutely loved it, which set me down the path of working more closely with Product Marketing, and eventually Product Design.
How do you approach getting stakeholders on board?
The million-dollar question! In general, I try to get people involved and stay empathetic. To me, the best way to drive adoption is to make sure everyone’s needs are at least being heard, if not met. When people have a relationship with you and a horse in the race, they’re more likely to want you to succeed.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a UX writer?
It’s changed a bit as I’ve grown. In the beginning, I had a hard time defending my choices. Even though I understood them grammatically, it took time to build up the confidence to stand by a word or phrase in an executive review.
Now, most of my challenges revolve around building processes. It’s difficult to anticipate the best time to get involved in a project without putting too many cooks in the kitchen, or how to hand off copy in a way that’s easiest for everyone to understand. A lot of it just comes down to making the best decision you can at the time, and being comfortable with change.
What’s your biggest content pet peeve?
Using “login” as a verb. It’s everywhere, and it’s usually on the very first screen — my first impression of a product. At InVision, we stick with “sign in” because it’s a little less jargon-y and a little harder to mess up.
Do you have any advice for aspiring UX writers?
Definitely! The first being to talk to as many UX writers as you can. I’m only here because I stood on the shoulders of (very generous) giants who agreed to answer my questions over coffee.
Coming from copywriting, I also had a big lightbulb moment when I learned to prioritize clarity over a wink. If your user doesn’t understand how to sign up, your “Giddyup” button isn’t going to land well anyway.
And I’m biased, but it’s so important to master grammar. Even if you’re incredible at messaging and content strategy, take a copyediting class to learn the most common slip-ups. Knowing whether or not to hyphenate a word really matters when you only have room for 5 characters.
Is there anything you want to promote?
We’ll be building out the UX writing team at InVision in time, but aren’t quite there yet. In the meantime, we’re hiring product designers and a unicorn of a Creative Technologist.
I also take on side projects from time to time, and am happy to chat if there’s potential to work together.
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every word matters is curated by Dominic Warren.
Thanks again to Sophie Tahran for taking the time to answer these questions.