What is UX writing? How is it different from web writing?
Andy Welfle (AW): UX writing is a term used for people who write for interfaces. That interface could be on the web, but it could also be in an app or an operating system. It’s usually much shorter form than technical writing or marketing copywriting, and it’s much closer to the user experience. In fact, it is the user experience.
How is writing “design”? And just how important is language as a design tool?
Michael Metts (MM): It’s a powerful tool—and it’s critical to almost any software interface. Years ago, when I was just starting my career, I came across a blog post from a designer at Basecamp named Mig Reyes, where he showed the same screens from a few different websites, with and without words, to illustrate how important they are. We use this same idea in our workshop by showing screens from a food delivery service called DoorDash.
A clear difference: How a few words can make or break an app’s usability.
Photo Courtesy of DoorDash, Michael Metts and Andy Welfle
MM (continued): Without words, most apps would be unusable. As designers, we put considerable thought into branding, colours, interaction patterns and animations, but the words are just as important. The book we’re working on is all about applying design methods to writing.
Why the sudden importance of UX writing?
MM: It’s always been important, but an increasingly complex ecosystem of software means it’s getting more important all the time. For example, think about a travel reservation company. That one company may have a web app, mobile apps for two different operating systems, a smartwatch app, and even a voice app. All those experiences rely on words. Emerging technologies like smart home speakers rely completely on words, which is also driving a focus on this type of work.
What essential background and skills are required to become a UX writer?
AW: When I interview candidates, I’m looking for a strong foundation in writing. They have to be intentional in the words they choose, and be able to rationalise their choices. But just as important, they need to be strong systems thinkers — they understand how the words in an interface affect a user’s understanding of how to use it, and how that impacts what happens next in the workflow.
Which traditional disciplines are more suited to UX writing?
AW: Good UX writers can come from any discipline, but I see a lot of former journalists in this field. They often have a strong understanding of the audience they’re writing for, they’re fantastic at knowing how to prioritise information, and they’re strong collaborators and interviewers. Plus, as the market for journalism jobs is shrinking, UX writer positions are growing in number.
How did you get into UX writing?
AW: Like a lot of us, my path was a winding one. I went to school for journalism, but I couldn’t find a full-time, career-path job after graduating. I eventually took a job in marketing for a non-profit organisation, which led to social media strategy and management at an agency, to a more traditional web content strategy job, to working as a UX content strategist at Facebook, and now at Adobe. Each move made sense to me as honing in on what I enjoyed doing, and what I knew I was good at.
Describe a day in the life of a UX writer.
MM: It has a lot in common with a day in the life of a designer or researcher working on a digital product. Discovery activities could include user interviews or online research to find the vocabulary your audience uses. There’s a lot of writing and iteration based on what you’re learning from team members, stakeholders, and users. UX writers also often find themselves involved in strategic efforts, like helping to create and improve design systems.
What advice would you give to budding UX writers?
MM: Ask a lot of questions. The more you learn about the product, your users, and the world they exist in together, the more effective you’ll be. The writing itself can seem pretty straightforward, but to do it well, you may need to change how the team is thinking about the role words play in the experience.