Design is not just visual: it’s a way information is communicated and digested by the user. In the most basic terms, design is how we understand and use things. What we find pleasant and convenient or uncomfortable and frustrating about products and services is all by design, whether intended or unintended.
But here is the thing, nearly 95% of the web is text. Admittedly, not all that text is being read: according to a Nielsen study an average consumer reads around 20% of text they encounter on the web, and even that is mostly scanning as oppose to reading word-for-word. Considering that when we look at a website/app we absorb a combination of elements (images, colours, text, etc), and that different people absorb information differently, the written content should never be overlooked.
Aside from the obvious content needs, words are there to help the user navigate, to educate, to inspire, and help when they are confused. Words drive functionality just as much as visual elements because the full experience is the combination of all of its parts. As a UX designer you must have an understating of, and empathy for your user in order to create an ideal experience; you also need to be able to tell a story around that user as you work through the project, so language is essential in design and prototyping.
As a designer you spearhead the customer experience design and more than likely don’t have access to a UX/Technical writer, which leaves the words in your crafty hands. Admittedly, content often comes from the client’s content or marketing team, but it should never be written in isolation without your consultation because you as a designer are the linchpin that brings it all together into one seamless experience. Jerry Cao wrote a great article on The Missing Link Between UX and Copywriting.
In my opinion, the benefits of being a designer who can write can be summed up in 3 points:
- You can create an ultimately better user experience
- You can tell a much better story to your executives and the user
- You become a more valuable designer
When it comes to writing for digital experiences (more recently referred to as UX writing) the style is significantly different from the traditional narrative approach to writing. Writing for digital is cleaner, simpler, more direct, and action driven. John Moore wrote an excellent article on this topic. Quite honestly there are plenty of resources out there with useful tips and guides for UX writing but they all boil down to three points discussed by Guy Ligertwood:
Clear: jargon-free, offers context
Concise: economical, front loaded
Useful: directs next action
Exploring various research findings three additional things surfaced as worthy of consideration:
- On an average visit, users read half of the information on pages with 111 words or less (generally pages with more than 111 words are content driven pages such as articles). That’s around 50 words that you have to work with, use them wisely.
- People look at lists with bullets more often than lists without bullets. Not to say you should abuse the bullets, content still needs to be visually appealing.
- Web users spend 69% of their time viewing the left half of the page and 30% viewing the right half (with the exception of RTL countries). This reading pattern can heavily effect how your CTA and action copy effectiveness.
Generally speaking, the studies on the web best practices ask that pages employ scannable text including:
- Highlighted keywords
- Meaningful subheadings
- Bullet lists (like these ones 💁🏼)
- One idea per paragraph
- Text should be written in the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
- Half the word count (or less) than conventional writing
And lastly, I cannot stress this enough, always, always consider accessibility because “The power of the Web is in its universality” — Tim Berners-Lee.