UX Writing Is Everyone’s Business
How collaboration makes UX writers indispensable
All thanks in the world to Amy Keeney for co-authoring.
UX writing is a relatively new discipline, and it’s not always clear what the job entails. Simply put, UX writers write the words in the experiences that go in front of people. We’re language, grammar, and voice and tone experts — but UX writing is more than that.
In the early days of technology, computers and tech had an aura of specialization — it seemed like you needed difficult-to-attain skills to be a technology user. Today, that has changed: after years of technology-centered solutions created by humans, we’re realizing the value of human-centered solutions led by technology.
UX writers have learned just how important humanity and accessibility are to technology. The words we use in the products we build are a huge part of what fosters trust with customers. While we can’t always walk in our customers’ shoes, we have a responsibility to think about what they need and the words that will make the most sense to them. We learn about people’s needs by asking them, involving them, and doing our best to understand that our experiences aren’t the same as the experiences of someone else. We’ve learned that innovative technology must address real human needs to develop trust and value. Human-centered design is pivotal to creating these experiences, with UX writers as invaluable collaborative partners who speak the language of the customer.
UX writers shouldn’t go it alone
At Microsoft, our UX writers work alongside design, research, and engineering to make sure that our experiences are successful because they’re trustworthy.
Writing is not a solitary endeavor in the world of UX. To improve technology, advocate for customers’ needs, and be a compelling language expert, a writer must be a solid business partner, not just a word genius. Writers should match their passion for language with curiosity about the entire development landscape, learning about the back-end engineering, marketing strategy, design process, and user research that propel successful products. A writer helps all these pieces coherently support one another.
It’s a significant challenge, but a worthy one. If you’re a UX writer, here are five things to ask yourself to help hone your skills and workflow as you become the creative business leader you’re born to be:
1. Have I been working on this project alone?
If yes, something’s gone terribly wrong. While the image of a solitary writer is an archetype, it just isn’t accurate in the world of technology. Successful writers collaborate. If you’re arriving at solutions alone, you’re creating bias in the product, sacrificing quality and maybe even ethics. Bring others into your process to curb bias and imagine solutions end to end. Insights from others — even if it’s just turning to another writer — help ensure we’re bringing the right language to the product and to the customer.
2. What’s the customer getting from these words?
If you wouldn’t find them useful, delete and try again. Maybe you’re designing for a particularly niche audience that you don’t really understand. If that’s the case, bring people who are part of that audience into the process. Give people value, not just strings of words.
3. Do these words strike the right tone?
When tone is right, it’s harmonious; when it’s wrong, it’s discordant. And discordance can be damaging. Voice and tone are delicate. The wrong words — whether incoherent, poorly executed, or plain offensive — can sever customer trust for a lifetime. Microsoft has some principles you can come back to and rely on, but in general, know who you’re talking to, the context they’re in, and adapt accordingly. Know when to crack a joke and when to keep it straightforward so you stay out of your customer’s way.
4. Do my business partners know the value of what I do?
If not, make it known. People shouldn’t see you as the grammar police. You are a word warrior! Be brave and set up some meetings to let your partners get to know you and the product expertise you bring to the table. By doing this, you’re advocating for yourself and the importance of words in building great customer experiences. Your customers (and hey, the rest of us UX writers) will thank you for it.
5. Do these words have business impact?
Yes, we need to write well. But at the end of the day, we’re also helping to create experiences that make a compelling business case. Can you fight for your words in a room full of technical experts and sales reps? Can you tell the whole story, end to end, of how these words bring customer love (and dollars)? If not, practice. Make yourself indispensable to how business gets done.
A writer’s work is never done
Anyone who has had a bad experience with UX, even something as simple as a confusing error message, knows how frustrating it is to feel like there’s something lost in translation between “technology” and “real human person.” A UX writer is a critical player in the line of defense ensuring this doesn’t happen. To keep human-centered philosophy in the words that customers interact with, UX writers can’t go it alone.
How do you build relationships with your partner teams? How have they helped build relationships with you? Let us know in the comments below!