By Tobias van Schneider Published September 1, 2020
Good UX copy is consistent. That requires making decisions about your brand voice, perspective, style and strategy from the beginning, and sticking with it.
– If your voice is technical or academic, and you throw a joke into an error message at random, it may feel jarring and confusing for your users. If you have a personal, casual voice and then shift to dry, legal language without warning, they’re going to feel wary. Establishing your voice, and maintaining it throughout your microcopy, builds trust and strengthens your brand.
– Go to any product and try to change your preferences. Does the option say “My preferences” or “Your preferences” or just “Preferences?” Any of them work. All of them were a decision by the copywriter. And those decisions change the way your product feels, whether the user is aware of it or not. It also allows people to use your product intuitively and reduces cognitive load. If you start switching it up mid-sentence (ie. “Check your return status under My Account” ) or between different parts of your product experience (calling it “My Account” in one place, and “Profile” in another), it’s going to make things disjointed and confusing. Does your product speak in third or first person? Decide now based on your voice, and keep it that way.
– Use your terms and names consistently. If you call it “scheduling” in one part of your product and “booking” in another, you’ll create uncertainty, which puts that important conversion at risk. Don’t use a synonym in an attempt to be creative or avoid repeating yourself. Use the same word you use everywhere else.
– Remember to make your copy consistent with the platform your user’s on. If they’re using it on desktop, it’s “click.” If they’re on mobile, it’s “tap.”
– Do you write your headlines in sentence form? Do you capitalize the first letter of each word? Do you use subheads or no subheads? Our brains get accustomed to these patterns and while we might not notice your product’s formatting or style, we will notice when it changes abruptly. And it will slow us down.
– Do you phrase your calls-to-action as questions or commands? When you open Netflix, it asks “Who’s watching?” This is a decidedly personal and casual approach, where it could have just as easily read “Select account.” If someone’s walking through your UX accustomed to answering questions, you may through them off with a command in the next step.
The best way to stay consistent: Creating a style guide for your team. Include your voice documentation and examples, whether you speak in first or third person, how you format the main elements (headlines, buttons, error message, etc.), and the universal terms for your main features. Educate your team – your engineers, your designers, your copywriters, anyone who may touch the copy – and review your product as a whole to ensure consistency.
While this may seem creatively limiting at first, it will actually improve your writing. "Switching things up" is not the same as creativity. Once we have clear, sharp sentences, we can more effectively have fun with them.
This is an excerpt from our upcoming UX Writing book, exploring how we (as designers and copywriters) can write copy that helps people use and love our products. Sign up for book updates here.