“Are you a writer?”
It’s a complicated question, being asked that in LA. Writing is one of those activities that sound basic such that if you say you’re a writer, then it must imply something fancy that you must write for film or a newspaper. Maybe you’re even even an author.
User experience (UX) design is not a widely known field, much less the niche of UX Writing. Even seeing the words on a screen, UX Writer looks kind of foreign, like the name of a piece of software or technology.
Have you heard about that new program UX Writer? Yeah, it’s more powerful than IA Writer.
Enough preamble. I’ll try to explain what I do as a UX Writer.
As a UX Writer, I write words that show up on a software’s interface – a website, a mobile app, or anything else that show’s up on a screen.
Most products have some content associated with them. Physical products have labels and buttons, and often times manuals to go along with them.
In tech, digital products are mostly content. Just strip out all the text on your favorite apps; what are you left with?
UX Writer as a job title attempts to combine two types of work: user experience and writing.
|User experience work||Writing work|
|Strategic decisions about the product||Say the right message at the right time|
|Ideation and brainstorming||Writing microcopy|
|Research and testing||Explain how a feature works without taking too long|
|Prototyping and design||Encourage users to take the next action|
The overall goal? Design using a user-centered process such that the end product is easy to use and gets the job done for users, whether that’s making a bank transfer or scheduling a post.
If I’m going to be writing the words that eventually show up on a screen, that means I need to take into account how people would react to the contents on the screen.
To oversimplify, a lot of UX Writing can be thought of “Write X for Y situation.” Here’s one:
Let’s say that I’m a UX Writer for a payment app that lets you transfer money for free. It usually takes 2-3 business days for your money to get to your bank account. However, your team is now developing a feature that – for a small fee – users can access their money immediately instead of waiting the few days.
The UX Writer will wrestle with this problem with questions like…
- Is the writing accurate?
- How do we prevent the user from making mistakes?
- Is the message concise and fits in the allotted space?
- Are we potentially using jargon the user isn’t used to?
- Are there helper text or legal disclaimers we need to consider?
Day in the life of a UX Writer
What I do is a function of a product design team within a tech company. So the broad goal is make digital products in the form of new apps, new features and new screens.
That’s how my projects are roughly organized. Are we launching a new feature? Redesigning old screens that no longer make sense? Or my favorite – users keep contacting support about a certain issue, let’s fix it.
Most of the time I’m working in the design program (we use Figma), because it’s easier to write the right words when you know where the words are supposed to go.
These words are referred to as product copy, which is made up of individual pieces of microcopy (button labels, form fields, helper text).
I work together with product designers to create the user experience. Here are some samples of writer-designer collaborative styles:
|Method||May be good for…|
|Product designer layouts out screens, UX Writer writes in copy||Experiences that require a lot of interaction (inputs, UI elements)|
|UX Writer creates content strategy, directs product designer to create screens||An experience that’s heavily content driven and hard to explain|
|Both UX Writer and Product Designer collaborate on strategy & flow before screen design||This is the “ideal” from mature design teams. Both writer and UXer equally contribute to the strategy.|
Other types of problems that show up that UX Writers tend to shine in:
- Content hierarchy: what’s the first thing that should be shown on the screen? 2nd, 3rd? And so forth
- Information architecture: Do the labels make sense? How does the user navigate from one area to another?
- Product and feature names
- Entry points (links) that lead into a certain experience.
If these responsibilities seem like they bleed into the UX designer’s wheelhouse, you’re right. UX is also the UX Writer’s job, it’s just that we spend 80% of the time solving problems from the content lens. And responsibilities could vary widely for designers working at startups vs agencies vs corporate jobs.
You might be wondering—can a team forgo a UX writer and just have the product designer write copy?
Sure, but it won’t be ideal. It’ll be similar to engineers doing the design, or the startup CEO doing all the marketing.
The bigger and more complex the product, the more that UX writers will shine. Think of the tech companies with vast ecosystems like Google or Facebook, and it’s no surprise to see why they were the first ones to identify the need, and groom the talent for UX Writers. Their product can get complex and requires a lot of content.
A lot of my work is spent thinking and rethinking the wording of things like is this confusing is this potentially confusing and if it’s big enough of an effort. Sometimes my work will cross over into user research where we are doing some usability test gauging how people react to the design and content and basically how something works and really getting a sense of like how they’re talking about something so that we could use those words perhaps or broader user research to understand people’s mental model and behavior around a certain thing and and if I really get the sense if I see something different that I didn’t anticipate before like, Ah.
Kind of zooming out and zooming in on the broad level a UX writer is a member of the of a digital product design team that includes designers product managers engineers, and we take care of the words the content the strategy behind the words of how we talk about something and it goes as deep as to writing the literal words on the page to designing flows and sometimes conducting research and testing to support all of that.
I’m very self-aware as a writer that UX Writer is weird term to not only people outside of tech, but even within product teams.
Does the UX writer touch marketing copy and ads too? Do they have design skills and have opinions about the UI? (Yes we do).
Tech culture has already bled into common culture, so most people are familiar with user interfaces (UI). So why not “UI writer?”
It’s a fair question because there’s a distinction between UX Design and UI Design.
The novelty of this profession and the ever-changing tech landscape means that a plethora of job titles are being explored, titles being explored, from UX Content Strategist to Product Writer. If the FAANG companies are any indication of where this field is going, it seems like Content Designer may be the new favorite.
In 6 months I’ll have to write another article, and…that’s why we have jobs.
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