Amanda Mohlenhoff, former Seattleite turned Berliner and UX Writing Lead, answers the most common questions about her growing field: UX Writing.
UX writing is a pretty new discipline, both at GetYourGuide and in the tech industry in general. Some articles, like this one from The Style of Elements, suggest that UX writing didn’t exist at all before 2015. There have always been designers and other folks who cared deeply about the words in their apps and software, but now UX writing is its own discipline. Since now it’s “a thing,” you may be asking,
“What even is UX writing?”
Fair question. When people ask me this at work, my answer is usually something like, “UX writing is the intentional design of words within a user interface. By design, I mean which words appear, when, and how."
When someone without a tech background asks me this question, I usually tell them I write the words that help you use a piece of software, an app, or a website.
“It’s very tricky,” I caution my listener, their eyes glazing over at the mention of software. “When there's limited space to write, and your message will be translated into 20 or so languages, and the wording has to be consistent everywhere while still sounding warm and human, it can get complicated.”
Dramatizations aside, what we do is complicated, which is part of why it's exciting. The concept you need to communicate dictates the form that message takes, and so our words and ideas end up shaping the products we work on in a big way.
At the same time, every product has technical constraints that limit what’s possible to do with the language within it. Part of the art and science of UX writing is finding the balance between changing the product and writing around it.
“Okay, so what do you actually write?”
Lots of different things! We write microcopy that appears in navigation menus, form field labels, button text, calls to action, and other tiny pieces of text. We write long-form content like FAQs, help articles, emails, and (ahem) sometimes even blog posts. We also write content that’s triggered by specific scenarios, like error messages or onboarding flows.
Every one of these contexts has its own constraints or best practices that help ensure our message accomplishes what we need it to. In error messages, for example, the customer should understand what went wrong and how to fix it. And the message must still be concise, on brand, written with translation in mind, etc.
Here are some of the questions we ask ourselves when we’re writing UI text:
What is the customer's goal or intention here?
How do our customers naturally talk about this?
Is this text used in many places or scenarios?
Will it still make sense and fit the design after it’s translated?
Is this wording/capitalization/punctuation consistent with the rest of the product?
Is the wording in line with our brand?
The end goal of UX writing, if there is one, is to help the customer accomplish their goals as effortlessly as possible. In a perfect world, the customer shouldn’t even notice that words are there at all as they use the product to do whatever they've set out to do.
“What’s the difference between UX writing and copywriting?”
It’s a fine line that divides UX writing from traditional copywriting, it’s true. By “traditional” copywriting, I mean writing for marketing, like editorials and ad copy. (Many folks working in UX writing have been marketing copywriters in past lives, myself included.)
A marketing copywriter’s goal is to inspire you and spark your interest in something. They craft aspirational content, editorials, ad campaigns, and emails meant to inspire customers to dig deeper into something. Once the customer has made up their mind that there’s an action they want to take, whether they’d like to buy something, read a review, or even talk to customer service, that’s where UX writing takes over.
The goal of UX writing is to help a customer accomplish whatever thing they’ve set out to do. This means that they’ve already made up their mind that, for example, they want to book a tour of the Louvre Museum. Our job is to make it as effortless as possible for the customer to make that happen.
“Do you love it?”
Hell yes; for so many reasons. I love UX writing because I like the challenge of solving technical problems in a way that’s still warm and human. I love learning about our customers, advocating for their needs, and connecting with them through the words I write. I love that I get to learn about cognitive psychology, product development, the travel industry, and human behavior every day, and apply those learnings in really tangible ways.
It’s kind of my dream job.