UX Writing: Side Effects May Vary
How UX writing changes you in surprising ways
Less than a year ago, I started a job that I didn’t know existed before I landed it. I’m a UX writer on a content experience team of a multi-national technology company. Or, more simply, I help improve products by adding (or removing) the right words in the right places. My role exists at the intersection of creative writing, problem solving, design, and customer obsession, and it turns out I like it a heck of a lot.
Becoming a UX writer has been life-changing in many ways: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a diverse set of smart, creative, and talented innovators, I’ve shaped products that impact literally billions of people, and I go to work each day happy to be there. But I didn’t realize taking the job would have unintended consequences. Read on to learn the wild ways that becoming a UX writer may impact your life.
You’ll think about design all the time
At its heart, UX writing is a design discipline. It’s all about improving everyday experiences — making products and processes easier to use and understand. As writers, we help ease frustration and hassles to make customer experiences more enjoyable. But that also means that you’ll start to notice and critique design everywhere, not just in your products. Door handles, streaming services, even cafeteria lines — everything is fair game. Which leads to the next side effect…
You’ll have less patience for poor design
Unfortunately, good design is seamless and almost unnoticeable, while problematic design draws attention. Because your brain is now wired to think about how to improve interactions in products, the frustrating ones become more irritating, especially when you can identify an easy fix.
Take a cafeteria with multiple entrances but no posted signs — with people entering from different sides of the room, it could be unclear which line to choose. Are the lines the same? If so, why is one so much shorter? Do they sell different types of food? Require different payment methods? Without signs to indicate where to go, people might enter the cafeteria in a cluster and then discover they’re in the wrong line entirely. Add in a crowd and rushed patrons, and you have a recipe for disaster. In this cafeteria, simple signs could eliminate customer confusion and soothe flared tempers. After all, nobody has time for bad design — especially when they’re hangry.
Your new motto will be “Words matter”
Words do matter. We learn this lesson as children, and we carry it throughout our lives. Words have the power to energize populations, to clarify confusing situations, and to comfort when someone needs empathy. Words are an integral part of a product’s design, the design process isn’t complete without them. As a UX writer, though, your attention to detail becomes more granular, and your newfound reverence for the right word at the right moment will lead you on a continual quest to improve the way you write and speak. Of course, “words matter” has its downfall — especially when it’s 3 AM and you’re thinking about everything you could have said better that day. Whoops.
You’ll learn to ask more questions
Though it’s counterintuitive, your job as a writer isn’t to have all the answers all the time. Instead it’s to be the voice of your customer and to ask questions that expose pain points and challenge common assumptions. This ensures you’re addressing real problems that impact your customers, not just creating products for the sake of creating them. Drilling deep to find the root cause of a problem will become second nature and will help you design more streamlined experiences.
As a bonus, all this practice asking questions pays off when helping your seven-year-old organize her room. Instead of asking questions that address the symptom, like, “Why is your room a mess?” you’ll start by asking specific questions to reveal the root problem and to uncover possible solutions. For example, you might ask: What part of keeping your room clean is challenging? If we added labels to your toy bins, would that help? What about pictures? What about labels and pictures? And — gasp — what if we had fewer toys? Along the way, asking questions and then truly listening to the answers will help strengthen your empathy muscle.
You’ll Notice Inconsistent Title and Sentence Casing ALL the Time
In UX writing, every part of the final experience is important, from the words you use to the style you apply to them. To deliver a cohesive experience for your customers, you’ll need to stay consistent in whichever style you pick, whether that means title casing or sentence casing your text. When you see a mix of styles out in the wild, warning lights might start flashing in your mind. And though you can’t fix everyone else’s products, you should keep your style consistent so your customers know what to expect.
You’ll take lots of pictures of weird, confusing, or complex signs
Because words and grammar matter, when a sign rubs you the wrong way, you’ll note it for field research and to show your colleagues. That vague reference to the Person in Charge in the women’s restroom? Snapped for posterity. This Out of Order sign? Pics or it didn’t happen. Because, what exactly is out of order here? The wall? You’ll have the urge to rewrite even the most mundane signs, and to this I say, I feel you.
Becoming a UX writer helps retrain your brain in a way that builds more empathy for the human experience and more awareness of the world around you. As with any job, you’ll continue to learn and grow as you encounter new challenges, and the benefits are clear. And as for those quirky side effects? They’ll become part of you.
If you’ve found yourself in this position, I’d love to hear about it. How has becoming a UX writer affected your life? Share your stories in the comments.