I was lucky enough to join InVision’s seminar series on UX copy last week, and pick the brains of talented writers Biz Sanford, Ada Powers, Sara Zailskas Walsh and Lauren Pope. They had a treasure trove of about process, inclusive UX , collaboration and forms — and I was furiously typing notes to try and keep up! So I wanted to write up my favourite take-aways to keep coming back to, and share with anyone who couldn’t make the seminars.

Here are just five tips for UX writers…

1) Banish lorum ipsum

Biz Sanford said something that really stuck with me: “Low fidelity still means high quality.” Low fidelity is about testing functionality, rather than the visual appearance of the product. You should skip the fine details and fancy flourishes — but remember copy isn’t either of those things. Copy is key content.

“Low fidelity still means high quality.”

How can you test if a button works if there’s no copy in it? ‘Share’ and ‘send’ mean different things, ‘submit’ doesn’t really mean much — and ‘squigly line’ means nothing at all.

Using the dreaded word ‘submit’ as your form CTA copy reduces conversion rates by around 3%

So banish the lorum ipsum, and get real copy into your low fidelity mockups. Of course, ‘real’ copy doesn’t mean final — the whole point of testing it to keep changing and refining! But you have to start somewhere. Think about what your user is feeling, what task they need to do, and what benefit they’ll get out of it.

2) Ask why you’re asking

If you’re asking your user for their information, first ask yourself why you need it. Like, really. Do you actually need it? Or are you just trying to cover all your bases? Maybe even being a bit greedy? The more fields you have, the more chance your user will give up and drop out. Asking for a phone number causes a 5% dip in conversions. Ask only what you need.

If you’ve asked yourself why, and the answer is yes becuase [insert good reason], explain that to your user too. It will not only help them give you the information you need, but it’ll also build trust. For example, why are you asking for their address? Your user might have a different address for billing, delivery, or business registration. Saying what you need it for helps your user give you the right info. Tooltips are your friend here!

You can see Airbnb aren’t being nosy, they need to collect certain information that’s important to guests.

3) Consult the expert — your user

Trying to put yourself in the user’s shoes is key to any good user experience. But remember, if you’re not sure you can always just check with them! Ask them what kind of language they would use in this situation. While redesigning a new customer form for Capital One, Sara Walsh used the research and feedback stages of the project to ask both bankers and customers what terminoligy they used and understood.

When collecting data, you should also give your users the chance to choose the language to describe themselves. Provide for both common and custom responses, let people self-identify, allow for multiple choice — and let people opt out of resonding. And when you’re asking about sex and gender, Ada Powers warned about conflating sex (male/female) with gender (man/woman). Use words like ‘custom’ instead of ‘other’ whenever possible. And you can also just let people tell you their pronouns.

Facebook’s form is a pretty good example of this. Under ‘gender’ you can choose betwen male, female and custom. Selecting ‘custom’ for gender then reveals more fields for the user to provide further details.

On Facebook you can choose between male, female and custom genders, and enter your pronouns

4) Don’t be afraid of long copy!

Yes, each word has to pull its weight. No, don’t get sloppy. But long copy is not a sin. You need to write (exactly) enough for your user to understand you. And it’s actually OK to be a little bit ‘clunky’ if ultimately that aids usability and accessibility.

How much copy is too much? It’s a fine line. But your regular writing process still applies: Brainstorm, iterate, edit, get second opinions, and challenge yourself. Does every word that I’m including serve a purpose? Remember ‘purpose’ isn’t just about practicalities, but also aspects like brand personality. You want to leave your reader with the right information — and the right impression.

When Sara Walsh and the Capital One team redesigned their new customer form, the result was a lot longer. But they found that customers were able to complete questions quicker, while their customer support team was recieving fewer calls (and more meaningful ones at that).

Improving this new customer form required more than doubling the word count (screenshot via Sara Walsh)

Lastly, don’t forget you can also work with designers and technologists to give you more space, and use design and placement to help people take in your copy. Speaking of…

) Work together

Lauren Pope had a great way of phrasing this one: “You’re all designers, just with different skillsets”. This is something we live by at Designit, and I’ve been lucky enough to work hand in hand with designers and technologists throughout my career.

But one new thing I wanted to take with me from Lauren Pope’s seminar was the structure behind working together:

  • Have a strategy — and make sure everyone shares and understands it, or it doesn’t count. A good strategy includes a problem statement, a solution, and a plan to get there.
  • Have principles — a common understanding of your values and ways of working. You can make these together as a team, just like your strategy for that matter.
  • Work together — pair working, design critiques and talking frequently are all great things.

Thanks again!

Thanks again to InVision for hosting and Biz Sanford, Ada Powers, Sara Walsh, and Lauren Pope for sharing their top tips.

There was a lot to learn from these talented writers, so if you think I’m missing something, please leave a comment!

More copywriting tips:

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