The most basic way you could express love is to say the words ‘I love you’. From Renée Zellweger’s iconic “You had me at hello” from Jerry Maguire and the more contemporary Martin Freeman’s “The problems of your past are your business. The problems of your business are my privilege” from Sherlock, films and televisions are filled with exquisite declarations of love and none of them has ever included the words I love you. To me, this is what a good writing is all about, a way to convey exactly what you’re trying to say without having to resort to cliches or platitudes.
Given that I’m someone that gets paid to write, I’m obviously biased in that I regard good writing as a highly admirable and one of the most essential tool you could have, both personally and professionally. The field of UX and web design deals a lot with visuals and optics and might not rely on writing on first glance but in practice, good writing is actually pretty integral to UX design. There are times when you can’t exclusively rely on visual aids and have to resort to words and in occasions like these, none of your design capabilities will be able to help you out.
To come up with a story and to tell a story
A work of fiction can have a really great story but poor writing and vice-versa. The easiest example is the typical fantasy and/or science fiction books. Typically, these kinds of books are filled to the brim with extensive world-building and an epic saga spanning several books with dozens of factions, characters and a host of made-up words that are frequently used throughout the book/s. On the other hand, because too much focus is spent on the lore and the plot, the actual writing usually leaves much to be desired, with some exceptions to the rule.
Story is the backbone of the book but writing is the specific way that story is told. A really good writer can find beauty in the banality and the capability to mine pleasure out of the prosaic. This is an admirable quality in fiction but just as valuable when dealing with non-fiction, as in the world of content marketing and yes, even in design. For example, have you ever read a manual for something that looks as if it’s written by and for someone with a PhD in quantum physics but indecipherable to 90% of the population? That’s probably because it wasn’t written by an actual writer.
In UX, writing is present in a number of ways, such as in buttons, header text, subheaders and explainer text. In terms of scope, these are just the granular details in the grand scheme of UX design but the phrase the devil is in the details is a cliche for a reason; they’re fundamentally true 9 times out of 10. The following section will focuses on these little details and how and why writing is important in UX design.
Space is a commodity
CTA buttons, headers, subheaders and explainer text are all relatively short compared to the actual content but even with their short length, they’re expected to convey whatever it is they’re supposed to convey and look attractive while doing it. You might think that writing something short like these might be easier than having to write 1,500 words on Fraser Anning but 1,500 words gives you considerably more freedom, which actually makes it easier as long as you know exactly what you know you’re going to say.
Having to condense and be extra picky with words you’re going to use because of the space limitations is actually pretty hard. Writers tend to have this tendency of using purple prose, which is excessively ornate texts that serve no purpose other than to showcase the capability of the writer in question. Purple prose is just as bad as prosaic prose but a really good writer has the capability to strike the middle ground between the two, capable of creating something beautiful even with limited space.
They could help inject your personality into your design
Visual design and writing is actually pretty similar and I’d posit that the only difference between the two is in the medium used. Designers play with colors and shapes while writers play with letters and words. Assume your designers have managed to come up with something aesthetically brilliant for your website but your designers aren’t writers and when they have to come up with the words to accompany the design, such as for the buttons and the error messages, they turned out pretty bad.
Just as how you wouldn’t ask a writer to design your logo, you shouldn’t ask your writer to come up with the words you’d use in your website. This relates back to the point I made at the beginning, where ‘I love you’ is the most boring way you could use to express love. Good writing can help you come up with new and interesting ways of conveying an idea while still being easily understandable and help give your website that little bit of personality that could only come from you.
Writing can help provide clarity to your design
It’s useless to have an aesthetically pleasing website if it’s difficult to use. User interface was meant to be the means of communication between a user and the machine but the user will have to be able to communicate with the interface itself to be able to actually use the interface. Images and words fulfill this role of being the interface between the user and the actual UX. Images however can be difficult to interpret or ambiguous and context, in the form of words, would be needed for clarity.
As a final note, it is important to involve writers early on in the design process as like designers, writers would need to do some homework on the kind of writing that would be suitable for the design. The writers would also need to know what the designer is trying to achieve with their UX in order to come up with a series of text that accentuates the design instead of conflicting with it. As I’ve tried to emphasize in this piece, writing is an important of UX design and to consider it as an afterthought would be a huge mistake.