User Experience (UX) teams have existed at software companies for a long time. But as the field of UX continues to grow and develop, more specialized roles, like UX writers, have been steadily growing and developing in importance, too, taking their place alongside more established roles like UX (product) designers and UX researchers. UX writers (also sometimes known as content strategists) are the folks responsible for crafting the words you see on the screen in the software you use.
It’s a job that seems simple in concept, but, like the job of most UX professionals, is filled with complexity. Think of your favorite app or piece of software. Now imagine it without words. It’s meaningless, right? How would you know which button to press, or which field to fill out? UX writers make sure that context is clear and straightforward, and good UX writers can help infuse products with the small details that delight users and keep them coming back.
Broadly speaking, the ultimate goal of a UX writer at HubSpot is to create the content that makes our users successful when using our marketing, sales, and customer service software. But to many outside of our team, the day-to-day life of a UX writer can be a bit of a mystery. Our work isn’t done in a silo — we don’t just sit alone at our desks turning out magic words. Instead, our work requires a substantial amount of partnership and collaboration. So, here’s what it’s really like to be a UX writer at HubSpot.
Where we fit in
At HubSpot, UX writers work closely with product designers to provide the best possible user experience. We create a holistic experience with words and design, and we think about words and content as part of the design from the beginning. Our job is to help teams choose the right words that will be understood by the most people.
We get many different types of copy requests every day. Sometimes we work with designers on long-term projects like the launch of an entirely new product, where every word and illustration need to be created from scratch. And sometimes, it’s as small as an existing sentence that just needs some sprucing up.
We also work closely with product managers (PMs) and software engineers, who contact us for requests both small and large. And we’ll work with them wherever they work. So if a product manager or software engineer wants to mention their UX writer in GitHub (where all of our actual code lives), we’ll leave copy suggestions there. If a designer is working on an early design in Invision (a design and prototyping tool), we’ll leave our thoughts and recommendations there. We’re also present in many early-stage whiteboarding and ideation sessions, where we’re co-creating a new feature or flow from the ground up.
It’s a best practice here at HubSpot to involve a UX writer as early in the design process as possible, as equal collaborators with the designers, PMs and engineers. In order to foster those relationships, our writing team tries to make sure all our product team members feel welcome to reach out to us, no matter how big or small the request is. We’re here for it all.
The writing process
We sweat the small stuff
There’s no word too big or small to necessitate a request, and requests come from all sources: Slack, GitHub, a shared Paper doc with the product teams, hallway run-ins — you name it. Requests can cover anything, from a current label in the product, to a simple checkbox that seems to be confusing our users. When we’re asked to help on a redesign of an existing feature, the best way to collaborate with the designer is to drop our comments and recommendations right into their Invision screens. We do our best to handle each individual request in a timely manner and are careful to keep track of all copy requests, whether they’re open, in progress, or live.
… and the big stuff
The launch of a new feature usually involves a lot of conversations and copy iterations. For example, we’ve recently been working on a new product that includes a multi-step creation flow unfamiliar to our current users. After user tests on the early designs showed some confusion, the writer, designer and product manager got together to understand the pain points. The writer could then go through the Invision mock-up and pinpoint where copy changes could be made, and where the the current design was in conflict with effective copy. From there, this sparked multiple conversations and large, impactful design changes that cleared up where users were getting confused. Copy helped clear the path toward a more concise design and, in turn, a better user experience.
We name things, too
Naming a new product or renaming an old feature is… well, it’s hard. Naming is about setting expectations and resonating quickly — the user should understand immediately what the product is and what value they’ll get from it. We also need to be sure that a name doesn’t already exist somewhere else in the product, because that will only add confusion. We also want to make doubly sure that other companies don’t have similar names. We don’t want a name to evoke another company or service where expectations about that name might already exist.
So we created a process for figuring out how to make naming a little easier. First, we developed a sheet of questions to help us describe what we’re naming, why, and if there are any background issues or context. Next comes the serious brainstorming to generate a list of suggestions. We then work with our UX researchers to find the best name through user testing before bringing it to our localization team to figure out how well it’ll translate across the globe. And, of course, we work with the new feature’s product team to see what they’ve been calling it and how they see that feature growing or changing down the road. Longevity is important in a good name — we need to come up with a name that works now, but also a name that will work for the product as it evolves. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, but this process adds clarity and accountability.
How is UX writing different at HubSpot?
What makes us “HubSpotty”
HubSpot’s known for its unique culture code. Similarly, we strive to make product copy that’s uniquely “HubSpotty.” HubSpot employees are humble, transparent, and empathetic, and our company’s culture code has a strong and direct influence on the voice and tone of the UX content throughout the HubSpot ecosystem.
The UX design team at HubSpot recently launched our new design language, HubSpot Canvas, into the world, which includes HubSpot’s voice and tone guidelines. In a nutshell, we aim to be friendly but professional. We know there are times to be fun and even a little surprising, but mostly we just need to be simple, direct, and get right to the point.
Solid foundation of trust
For a long time, HubSpot had just one UX writer. What was once a team of one is now a team of three UX writers and one illustrator. The original UX writer at HubSpot, Beth Dunn, worked hard to build a strong brand and demonstrate the value that thoughtful and consistent content brings to a product team. That built-up trust has made everyone’s job so much easier, and gave us the opportunity to show how much value UX writers can add to the design process. Designers, product managers, software engineers, and UX writers all have a clear sense of how writers contribute to the larger goals we all share.
Collaborators, not an agency
Because we’ve worked so hard to develop relationships with designers and others in the company, we’re not just seen as service providers, but as collaborators throughout the life of a project. We get to be involved early in the design process because the words we use, even in early designs, can directly influence what a product becomes.
Just as design shouldn’t come last as a sort of “make this look good” final step, UX writing can’t come last as a “make this sound good” step, either.
We also lean on our fellow UX writers for help with the real meaty content. We have regular meetings and a private Slack channel to review our current work and help each other get over any hurdles.
What does a good UX Writer look like?
Strong writing skills
When we recruit, we look for people with a strong understanding of correct grammar and good language structure. It’s worth noting, as a personal anecdote, that I started in the role with no UX writing experience, just general writing experience. I have a creative writing background from school, and was a technical writer at HubSpot before I applied for this role. My biggest challenge in becoming a UX writer was adapting to a new audience but my solid writing foundation made learning the more specialized skills of UX writing much easier.
The UX writers at HubSpot work closely with product managers, product designers, software engineers, localization experts, researchers, and many others. Being able to adapt to the needs of our peers has been critical. We look to insert ourselves into current workflows instead of creating new ones and forcing them on colleagues. We want to make sure product managers know we’re looking out for their product and solving for speed, and that designers feel they have a partner in their design process. We have regular meetings with each product team and their associated researchers, writers, designers, and product managers, so we can all do our best to help and support each other as our products grow and change. Alignment is key.
We use Trello to manage our daily work. This has been a lifesaver in terms of keeping track of open requests. Establishing a reputation as someone who is highly organized can also help build a strong foundation of trust with other teams. It’s important that we maintain a quick turnaround time and that no requests for content design fall through the cracks. The UX writing team relies heavily on process to help manage daily work and maintain high functioning relationships with everyone we support.
Sometimes we have multiple requests sitting in our queue, big and small. Understanding the urgency of one request over the other allows us to prioritize our workflow and ensure that we’re handling the right request at the right time. Being able to work on a few small requests along with a larger project is a constant juggling act, but it’s something that’s been essential to my success in the role so far.
Advocate for the user
As UX writers, it’s important to feel confident that we understand and empathize with the mindset of the user. We don’t just write copy to fill the available space — we want to write copy that matches the user’s feelings and thoughts in that moment. Designers, product managers, researchers, and our personal experience can all help inform this user-centered approach. A UX writer is also likely to have a strong desire to be a part of the larger content conversation in the field of user experience, and to promote what good writing can add to the real value of a product and the bottom line of your whole business.
UX writers are more than just wordsmiths. We’re relationship-builders, information architects, linguistic resources, content designers, user empaths and advocates, and a whole lot more. It’s a pretty exciting role and we’re looking forward to seeing where it takes our content team next.
This post was originally posted to the HubSpot Product Blog.