The Complete Guide to UX CopywritingNatalia Persin
The text you see on websites and apps isn’t an afterthought. It’s all designed and tested to guide you along the path that the UX designer and creative team want you to take. A UX copywriter’s responsibility is to find the words and text that will suit the intended user journey.
Like most jobs in the UX/UI field, UX copywriting could be performed by a dedicated employee or it could be part of a plethora of job duties for one or a few creatives. Whatever the case may be, having an understanding of user experience copy and how it works will benefit the people who have to write it and others helping to build the overall UX design.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about UX copywriting, how it fits into the overall UX structure, and some adjacent roles like user interface copy.
A copywriter creates brief sections of text used for advertising. This text, called copy, needs to be enticing because it works as a call-to-action for the reader.
Compare this with a content writer to get a better idea of why copywriting is a field in its own right. Content needs to entertain, inform, and interest readers so that they continue engaging with the brand that produced it. Copy isn’t necessarily held to these same standards, although it can delight and entertain.
Copy is much shorter than pieces of content writing. Copywriters could be producing extremely short pieces of text, like what you might see on the homepage of a website or the download page of an app. It’s not meant to be a detailed explanation of the product or service. Rather, it should explain just enough to make the reader curious enough to engage with the product.
That could mean directing them to content or directly to a download or subscribe button. In social media design, it could be a like, follow, retweet, or a link to a full brand website.
Copywriting vs. UX Copywriting
So what sets user experience copy apart from the kind of copy we just described?
The main difference is that copywriting is used specifically for advertising and marketing purposes while UX copywriting is meant to support the user experience.
Copywriting is aimed outward, meant to bring people into engagement with a product or brand. UX copywriting is meant for people who have already made that leap, even if they’re first-time users. You can see how all of these elements combine to provide a seamless pathway from the first interaction to the end – et voila, the user experience as a whole.
What Does a UX Copywriter Do?
As for which parts of that entire user experience the UX copywriter is responsible for, think of all the places you might see short bits of explanatory or informative text when you’re logged into an app or perusing a website with a user account. It could be the guide that helps you figure out how the app works when you first log in, or maybe animated text that indicates new changes after a software upgrade.
You also have tons of text on menus, buttons, and pictures. Everything from placeholder text in fields on a form to the flyover text on a photo is written by the UX copywriter.
Many creatives who opt for user experience copy over more traditional copy do so because they enjoy being able to write for an audience that is already invested in the product. It’s still about communicating the idea of the brand and product to the users, but it’s not so focused on driving a sale.
Of course, there are plenty of calls to action that a UX copywriter will have to incorporate into their work depending on the overall product. For example, some companies have in-app purchases on top of subscription costs, so the UX copy might still be guiding people toward some kind of sale in that way.
But the majority of user experience copy is focused on making sure the user understands things that they’re already doing. The user is focused on much finer details when they’re already using the product than they are when they’re still being convinced to engage with it. They’re no longer passive candidates but rather engaged and active users.
How UX Copywriters Work
If you’re not yet familiar with the particulars of design thinking and how it fits into the UX design process, you can check out our guide here.
UX copywriters take much the same kind of approach as UX designers do when structuring the overall user journey. They need to have empathy for the user and be able to identify pain points that their creative work can solve.
The heart of UX copywriting work is identifying pain points that can be solved with text. Informative text boxes that function like signposts along the user’s pathway, as well as guides to animate how they can use different functions of the design, are both good examples of how UX copywriters work.
Through the use of tools like software and analytics, UX copywriters need to research the users and the way they engage with the product or brand. In the case of new product launches where the company is brand new, the UX copywriter will have to analyze similar products and the way prospective users behave when they use similar products.
Remember, the UX designer is focused on making sure the product is accessible and understandable for the user. If the task the user wants to complete cannot be completed, that’s a failure for the entire UX/UI team as well as the UX copywriter.
But the goal isn’t to create huge blocks of explanatory text. It should be as minimal as possible so that it doesn’t intrude upon the user. Quick sets of words in the right location can go a long way further toward informing the user than a whole paragraph that makes buttons and the purpose of the product seem more complicated than it needs to be.
Many people get confused when they try to separate copywriting, UX design, and UX copywriting specifically. This is largely because all of these things ideally combine to get the user to engage with the brand and complete some action like purchasing a product or registering for a service.
While they all have the same end in mind, they operate in tandem to get there by focusing on different parts of the process. UX copywriters focus on things that regular copywriters don’t, like information architecture and content matrices.
Microcopy & Interface Copy
UX copywriting is applied in many ways. To specific subsets are microcopy and interface copy.
Microcopy is found all over the place. Search bars have example prompts, P2P platforms offer similar products, and websites remind users of previously viewed items principally through microcopy.
Interface copy is fairly similar to user experience copy as we already outlined it above except it relates to specific actionable pieces of the design that the user may not understand intuitively right away. For example, a button may not be clear about its purpose as soon as they see it. Or they could have entered text into a field incorrectly, in which case some interface copy is needed to instruct them on how they might correct their entry so that the form can be accepted and processed.
The Focus of User Experience Copy
Interface copy and user experience copy influence the way users make decisions. On commerce websites where users are guided through many different options about the way they want to use the service, the language used impacts how they think and feel about what they’re doing, which often changes how they choose to move forward.
In order to explain where users are and their options to progress, UX copywriters have to add some context. This can be done in many different ways, but one of the most common ones is to give examples of how to use certain functions on the site. Doing so also gives them an opportunity to inject some humor or a more relaxed tone to the page.
Tone is incredibly important for all copywriting and user experience copy is no different. Maybe the whole site won’t be hip and irreverent, but there are some aspects that might be more effective if such a tone is used. For example, if you have to explain a bit of legal or usage policy, running through it in layman’s terms with a touch of good humor can turn something boring and opaque into something understandable and easy.
UX copywriters frequently implement tones that change as people move through the product. For example, you might see more relaxed and informal language as you progress through pages of a website if doing so indicates that you’re a regular customer. Or you could see a greater degree of urgency if your movement is further away from a call to action.
For a quick example of this, consider a hypothetical food delivery app. When you first begin, there are a ton of options with lots of text meant to show you all the different options you have. You select a restaurant and, similarly, there is text describing the dishes on the menu.
Once you have items in the delivery basket, the text is more minimal. There could be a button that suggests adding a drink or dessert and a field for adding a coupon or discount code. As you go through all of these screens, the tone changes from an unfamiliar and service-oriented one to a more personal tone.
Text on the first screen might say, “Order food from anywhere near you,” while the final delivery confirmation screen could read something more like, “Kick back and relax, your food is on its way.”
Similarly, returning customers to the same app could see a message that says, “You hungry?” Since they’ve already used the service before, the more informal tone shows that the service recognizes and values that.
UX Copywriting Within User-Focused Design
The UX copywriter will likely have to work alongside marketing copywriters, information architects, UI designers, and UX designers as well. There are other creatives who take over more niche tasks like photographers, content writers, and graphic designers. If these are on the team, then you can expect to work with them as well. But in terms of who the UX copywriter is going to be working most closely with, it’s the people who are building the structure of the final product and deciding on what sort of tone to take.
Research for user behavior that informs how the copy will be written and developed strategically throughout the content matrix will probably be shared or completed alongside other user research. Be ready to learn from and work in tandem with dedicated researchers if you’re employed with a larger company.
As products move further into the future and incorporate things like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and crafted “people” like Amazon’s Alexa, UX copywriters can expect to cross into entirely new realms. All that tech that’s meant to mimic a human needs to have a personality, tone, and a huge repertoire of phrases and responses if users are going to believe them.
For now, you can still make huge waves just by writing great text where people are used to seeing filler words. Programmers and designers used to write the most basic and straightforward text to show users how to do things and many of them have not taken to UX copywriting as of yet, which means users are still greatly entertained by effective copy.
All you need to become a successful UX copywriter is a strong sense of curiosity, an economy with words, and a love for language that has immediate effects. User experience copy is its own kind of poetry separate from the canon bookworms might be familiar with. It is more concrete – but the good news is that it feels more immediate for most people today.
Career Paths for UX Copywriters
While design thinking and user-focused fields have been around for a good while by now, UX copywriting is still finding its footing. There are likely to be plenty of jobs in UX copywriting because so many apps and websites need it done, but in terms of a career path, the future is wide open.
After enough enterprising creatives have moved up to the role from places in marketing copywriting or other adjacent positions, we’ll probably see career paths begin to take shape. For now, it’s not that there isn’t anywhere to go after becoming a UX copywriter but more that the direct path from it doesn’t have any established positions right after it.
If you love to be a trailblazer and know how to accomplish goals with well-placed words and the right tone, then UX copywriting is a fantastic career. Since it is comparatively new, you’ll likely be able to try out new tactics and push the boundaries. You could even be responsible for changing the relationship users have with brands and their products if you work on a project that’s large enough.
A strong imagination and a well-informed awareness of how brands and designers are communicating with their users today will also help you be a great UX copywriter and bring the field to new heights. Keep track of how people behave on the internet and how the ever-growing lexicon of shorthand expressions and memes that we use to communicate on the internet so your UX copywriting work is even more effective.
UX copy is the text people see as they navigate through a product or website. It’s different from standard copywriting because the intent is not to bring new people to the product – it’s aimed at people who are already using it.
The role of a UX copywriter is part information architect, part marketing professional, part content strategist, and part UX designer. It’s a new way for creatives with strong language skills to make people’s lives easier as they use one of the multitudes of new digital products and services that are introduced to the public seemingly every day.
Writing UX copy is a promising career choice that looks positioned to grow exponentially in the near future. With the knowledge in this guide, you’re ready to take your first steps into a new UX copywriting career.