The Rise Of UX Writing And What It Means For Malaysian Writers

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Have you ever uninstalled an app just a few seconds after you have downloaded it? Does this flow sound familiar—download app, launch app, don’t understand what the app is about from the first few seconds of use … delete?

If the interaction design is not the problem, then this unfortunate incident could possibly be the responsibility of the UX Writer (User Experience Writer), if it is the copy that is not clear enough.

Whether we realise it or not, many of the websites or apps that we use today contain UX writing, even if we don’t call it so.

Here is how Google describes its UX Writer:

As a User Experience writer, you are an advocate for Google design, working to shape product experiences by creating useful, meaningful text that helps users complete the task at hand.

Simply put, UX writing would include all the text you see throughout your product experience – yes, including ‘BOOK NOW’, ‘YES’, ‘NO’ and ‘CANCEL’. It’s easy to take this for granted sometimes, but the truth is, no matter how simple these words are – someone had to write it and spare some thought to whether these words would fit the screen contextually.

Then, what about copywriting?

Is it the same? Not quite.

Copywriting is what brought you to UX writing, loosely speaking. (Note: Some companies would choose to call their UX Writers – UX Copywriters, but that’s a different story altogether.)

Traditionally, copywriting is always perceived as an afterthought or a task that is summoned once the product has been developed. This is when the product is ready to sell, and the marketing team requires a Copywriter to craft copy to sell the product well.

So in essence, copywriting is always related to selling. UX writing, however, is always related to serving. These two are not opposed to each other, but two different points of the business funnel where UX writing almost always should begin first. Once the product is ready, the selling work is passed on to the Marketing team who would then summon Copywriters to do the selling.

The power of UX writing.

This doesn’t mean that the UX writer’s work is done only at the beginning. A product is constantly being enhanced every day, so the UX writer’s work is also iterative whenever product improvements or new product features require a new copy.

UX writing can be life-saving when a fix for a user problem is not possible through engineering or UI design. For example, a user may find it worrisome to wait for more than five seconds for their internet banking payment to be completed on a shopping app. Instead of just showing the copy “Processing your payment…”, a different copy can be launched if the wait is longer than expected – “We know it’s taking longer than expected, but please do not quit the app yet. 20 more seconds to go!

A copy string like the above can calm user anxiety and prevent the user from dropping out of the funnel – solving a huge business problem without spending heavily on engineering.

On that note, the product design should not only include design researchers, UI designers, UI developers, engineers, but also UX writers). Lorem ipsum is not the way to go.

What this means for writers in Malaysia.

In Malaysia, when you tell someone that you’re a writer, the question that follows is almost always, “so do you write books or articles for magazines?”

Unfortunately, many are still unaware of the UX writing industry which is actually growing steadily due to a huge user base from smartphone penetration. There is a growing pressure for websites and apps to evolve and adapt to a hygiene standard of user-friendliness – or risk having your app uninstalled.

Companies like Spotify, Pinterest, Google, Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Facebook and more have long since established the UX writer role, as seen in their product adoption success. Closer to home, companies such as Traveloka and Go-Jek also have their in-house UX writers. Some variations of the title are “Microcopy Writer”, “Product Writer”, “Product Copywriter”, “Product Experience Writer” or “UX/UI Writer”.

Starting a career in UX writing is no rocket science – and in fact, requires you to come back to earth. The core principle of true, user-centred design where UX writing finds its roots is empathy. Come back to earth and shun jargons that nobody but yourself understand. Write with the user in mind, to solve user problems and not to impress. Writing to impress tends to include unnecessary information and clutter the user’s journey in your product funnel.

Be ready to put aside your assumptions of what copy works for your audience as UX writing is an iterative journey that will be improved over usability tests with your users.

Usability tests are done when you invite your users to test out your products and observe how they understand to use it. Usability testing, for me, is both a humbling and liberating experience. Humbling, because you usually realise that you are not your users, and assumptions get shot down. Liberating, because it leaves no room for ego in writing. It’s always about the users, not yourself. That’s what the title means, after all – User Experience Writer.

Hopefully, this little piece is a good kickstarter to what UX writing is all about. Till then.

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