It’s time to invite copywriters to the UX party

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by Zoe Hilton

There’s a saying that goes “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. In terms of design, most people now know that just because your friend’s brother’s 15-year-old nephew can use Photoshop doesn’t mean you should let the kid loose redesigning your logo.

The same rule applies for content. You might be able to write – all those years at school, university and drafting emails surely count for something, right? But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should tackle copywriting projects yourself.

This is especially true when it comes to user experience projects, where every step of a user’s journey is unpacked and analysed. Just like design, content is a guiding force in that journey. If a user needs to stop to re-read a piece of copy, the hours you spent fine-tuning and reworking the design are swiftly undermined.

That’s why UX is no longer just the domain of designers – it’s time to invite copywriters to the party too.

How to integrate copy and UX design

In many UX projects, copy is often a secondary consideration, cobbled together without anywhere near the same degree of thought that went into the design.

In UX projects, we have found it beneficial to work with a copywriter during the wireframe process, drawing on their experience of when and how to convey information. Less is more in the world of UX and if you’re not an experienced writer, you will find brevity surprisingly hard to master. As author Jack Kerouac said,

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

As well as drawing out the ‘right words’, a copywriter is also an extra set of eyes who can provide a fresh perspective in the planning stage. The last thing you want is a copywriter to come in at the end of a project and tell you there aren’t enough characters to work with the in the headline or that you haven’t allocated enough space for product descriptions – so ask these questions early on.

Building a narrative

UX isn’t all hard numbers, heat maps and analytics. Any digital product exists to establish some sort of connection with the user – whether emotional or otherwise – and content is an important part of setting the right tone. Language affects how users feel when they use a product, which in turn affects your traffic, conversions and return visitors.

Whether you are telling a story, guiding shoppers to a transaction or building out a complex user journey, a copywriter can help you develop the right messaging and give you guidelines on how much content is necessary to get those messages across.

Defining what you do

One of the most exciting things about UX is that it gives you the chance to bring completely new ideas to life. Let’s look at Uber for the sake of familiarity. Ridesharing wasn’t a term the majority of people had heard of until Uber’s launch. So when you are building something that’s so new it doesn’t yet have a narrative, where do you start?

This is where a team comes in handy. Defining what the story is and then integrating that messaging into your product is important for onboarding users who have no idea what you do and what you are offering.

Stepping away from the content

Whether you’re a designer, subject matter expert or product manager, chances are you’re too close to the project to do the content justice (yes, passion can be a double-edged sword in the digital world). This comes back to the idea of less being more – the closer you are to something, the more content you will write about it, because you naturally want to draw out every exciting feature and benefit you’ve painstakingly created.

When you lose the ability to take a bird’s-eye look at a project and see it from the user’s point of view, it becomes harder to ditch the sales talk and heavy-handed messaging. It also makes it harder for you to cull the content to the point where it eloquently tells a story.

A copywriter, on the other hand, can objectively establish a tone of voice that carries across the entire platform. They also know when to break the rules and when to stick to them. Often a simple ‘read more’ or ‘buy now’ button will lead to higher conversion rates than a cute or cryptic call to action created for no other reason than to sound different. If you haven’t written digital content before, you won’t always know when to play it safe.

But do UX copywriters even exist?

Mad Men hasn’t done as much as you might think for the modern-day copywriter.
While designers are now recognised as specialists in different segments like branding, print or digital, copywriters are still thought of as Don Draper types who churn out witty one-liners. The truth is, they are just as specialised as designers, and we’re about to see a lot more copywriters focusing solely on UX.

For our projects, we have a few in-house word slingers who are deeply involved in the copywriting for UX process. We write for different audiences and industries, while providing a unique perspective that simplifies the user journey and provides insights that could save time trouble-shooting and iterating a design.

A blank screen is a very different thing to a copywriter and a designer. When you’re tempted to jump the gun and write something, remember: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Think we might be able to help take your website, digital product or app to the next level? We’re ready to hear all about your big plans and chat about how we can add value.

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