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What is UX Writing, and why should a startup care about it?

In the following installment of the UX, Design and Startup series, we cover UX Writing, deliberately following Visual Design, which was covered in Part 3, as the two go hand in hand when it comes to your customers’ experience.

UX Writing is confusing to navigate. While it is hugely important and there has been a sharp rise of this skillset in the UX community in Europe over the past couple of years, it has many different associated job role titles, and like service design (which I’ll cover in the fifth and final part) is probably one the least known and understood of the design remits. As such, it is often undervalued and a rarely seen function within a startup.

This blog explores why UX Writing matters to your business and the power of thoughtful content for your product and marketing strategy. We'll look at some examples of highly successful UX writing and challenges that I've seen the startup community face in achieving it.

As usual, I’ll also cover what you need to consider when making this hire, the budget and skillset you can expect for each level of hire.

The What and The Why

Prioritising content within your user’s journey will define their experience.

The primary aim of UX Writing is to seamlessly manage communication between users and a digital product.

UX Writing is the practice of crafting copy that guides users through the interface within a product or platform, helping them interact with it.

The primary aim of UX writing is to seamlessly manage communication between users and a digital product.

In the previous blog, I mentioned that your user interface and visual design are the frontline of your product and your audience’s first impression will be heavily influenced by this. But, what I didn’t mention is that the written content, is also a hugely influential part.

The way you speak to your user defines the way they interact with your product; your entire customer journey is guided by icons and written direction.  You could have the ‘prettiest’, well thought-out imagery and visual structure to your web page, but without pairing it with the right words, it could completely fail your user.  

As London’s economic ecosystem continues to be defined by the growth in digital services, how you articulate your product’s capabilities and the usability of the product itself is everything.  

A post I recently saw on LinkedIn provided a simple example of the impact of content on user experience. A contact was lamenting the user experience of the navigation system in their car.  
 
When requesting to cancel a route on their Volvo Sat-Nav, their system asked, “Do you want to cancel the current guidance?”. The users options were “OK” or “Cancel”.  
 
Which would you pick while you’re driving?  

UX Writing help users achieve their goals when they use a product. Crafting copy that immediately makes sense may sound obvious when designing your content, but it is something that’s still overlooked by a brand like Volvo… who will likely get away with the mistake.  

When Content Design is well thought-through, it can support the user through an otherwise negative experience. In the example below, the BBC have opted for a quick apology, an image and search bar, rather than the simple “404 Not Found”. 

BBC UX Writing 404 Not Found

Fig 1: BBC’s take on Error404 is a good example of how your content can help with the user experience and journey.

The UX Writing challenge for Startups

Understanding the value versus investment of UX Writing in your business is the big question.  

For me, it’s quite simple.  

For new customers, there are three things your UX Writing can quickly help your user understand: 

  1. Who you are 

  1. What you do  

  1. How they can engage 
     

The number of companies that have invested hundreds of thousands on intuitive UX and visual design, but fail to do these three basic things through crafted copy is amazing. 

User journeys are becoming shorter to accommodate ever decreasing attention spans. A good UX writer will guide the user through their journey, so the experience is as seamless as possible. From intuitive responses to broken links, to empathetic on screen support and inherently understood titles for navigational tabs - all empower your user to stay with you and finish their journey. As a startup with minimal market presence and (likely) little trust earned from your consumers, can you afford to be sloppy with your content and your user’s experience? 

No. 

Your products need to be clean in their design and engaging in their experience. Your language should typically be clear and direct, so that the product has maximum accessibility across all potential users. 

To be clear, a UX Writer’s primary role is not to focus on your marketing content, but that being said gaps can be plugged as needed. From what we’ve seen at Confido, UX Writing for your website  is predominantly owned by the marketing function within startups, while UX Writing for your actual products would sit within the product team.  

Of course, when you’re doing it well, all your copy and content will align with your startup brand and identity.  

While there are overlaps between UX Writing and Content Marketing, their purposes are primarily different.

 ux writing versus content writing

When hiring a marketing copywriter, you’re hiring a sales-orientated, marketing & customer acquisition focused function. A UX writer’s role is less about customer conversion and ideally retention through a seamless user experience.

A UX Writer will sit within your product and design team and be product-orientated, while delivering a user experience synonymous to your brand. Unlike content marketing, UX writing will not be adjective heavy, or jargon filled - the product is not the place for this type of writing.

UX writing best practices

 

Fig 2: UX Writing provides instruction and guidance to your user journey through simple language and direction.

 

Good design practice should mean UX Writers are involved in the design process from the very beginning, helping establish your brand’s vocabulary across the various user journeys, ensures a consistent experience and is of huge importance when creating a first and lasting impression. Customer conversion and retention of your customer base is a natural bi-product of doing this well.

When building a product and launching it, you need to come across as an expert. Your written content defines your positioning and tone. Although this is also marketing’s job, the actual language you use within your product plays a big part.

What's the primary purpose of UX writing within the UI/UX function?

UX Writing exists to increase accessibility to a product. The staples of an accessible remit when using a website or product are:

  • Pages loading quickly
  • Clarity in navigation and well-structured page content
  • Visually attractive layout
  •  Short and seamless user-journey

Content and design walk hand in hand with the user experience. Your content should mirror the aesthetics and interactives of your digital product to create a consistent user experience and narrative.

Creating simple instruction creates convenience for your user, and consequently will improve your website’s usability. This is huge to you as a startup, as a user-friendly website will encourage growth in SEO.

As a startup, if you're creating something new and disruptive, then having something like hover over help, a pop-up support guide or chatbot is almost an expected feature nowadays. The tone of voice and narrative of all these things should be considered, working with the UX and marketing team to ensure you're aligning any and all content to your brand and the people that would engage with it.

What should I consider before making a UX Writer hire?

Referring to the example of good content design from the BBC and poor UX writing from Volvo, there are some things to consider when considering a dedicated hire:

Positioning of your content effects your design decisions. This ties back into the idea that your content design, the writing and the layout, need to be considered at early stage. Pairing UX and visual design, with content design, ensures that you are keeping consistency for the user from the outset. The layout of the written content is so important to the narrative of a user journey and will define the speed, simplicity and completion of any user story on your product/webpage.

The limitations on your content will limit the growth of your brand. This refers to the notion that good user experience creates greater discoverability online. If people are revisiting your webpage, consistently using your product and positively rating it, it’s going to appear higher in search engine results and naturally increase its presence within the industry. If your product looks pretty, but is jumbled and unclear, then user journeys will likely be cut short, time on set will be less, impacting SEO as a result.

Creation of legacy guidelines and templates. This can be key in the growth of your business as a startup. Creating a foundation of good design and UX principles within your business can support growth which is consistent with your brand mission and your customer’s perception of you. Having a set of guidelines as your build your product, will support consistency and brand as your product and team scales.

With this in mind, here are some questions to make sure that you can answer before making a UX Writing hire:

  • Are you tracking your user journeys?
  • Do you clearly understand each step in your user’s experience flow?
  • How does your UX design align with your brand’s mission?
  • Are you happy with the structure of your content and how it sits within your website or product?
  • Do you have defined user goals for each stage of your product journey?

Ready to hire, what level should I be looking at?

This is where I typically break down day rates, junior, mid and senior level salaries. But in this instance, I will share the rates of hires I believe are most applicable to a startup – Consultants or Senior hires.  

Why a Consultant or Senior UX Writer?  
 
If you’re hiring someone at a Junior (35-45k) or Mid-level (45-55k), keep in mind this person will not have the strategic experience to provide design direction or tone of voice guidance. They’ll offer very little without the direction of someone more senior to take the lead. I would not recommend making a junior UX Writer hire off the bat - you will need someone to come in, interpret and understand the gaps in your product’s user experience and provide considered changes to your content first. 
 

Consultants - £350-£450p/d

Testing the water is something I’ve found myself saying consistently in this blog series, and a consultant is typically the way to do that. Again, as mentioned above, hiring someone to create a foundation of content design principles and set some strategic direction and guidelines for your product’s layout can be really useful. Moreover, getting someone in for the initial build of your product will prevent the pitfalls outlined earlier in this blog.

Senior/ Lead Level- £60-75k

I recommend this is where you focus your search for a UX Writing hire. Taking someone on at senior level means they will impact design at a strategic level, from content design through  the software languages you use to code, to the creative direction the business takes. In a startup environment, Senior UX Writers act as Content Strategists and Designers. They need to be able to wear many hats, looking after minor UX-based projects elements, and a wider-business content strategy. The expectation for these content designers and strategists is that they can work across the larger experiences and the smaller ones too - as well as provide incredible UX Writing. 

Sound checking & Next Steps:

As great as your interface is, it would be better if there were less of it." -- Alan Cooper.”

Content design and UX writing are probably the skillsets least known to the startups we work with, second only to service design.

Hiring a UX Writer will ensure your content provides a seamless user journey. There is a difficult balance between simplifying your written content, while ensuring you are providing the written instructions required by the user. Founders and CTOs, you will know a product inside and out, but should not make assumptions about users’ and their capacity to pick up a product and run with it. 

If you are at a point where you need the expertise of a UX writer, with Content Design and Strategy under their belt, or want to find out more, then we are here to help.

We are here to provide clarity and steer on this, and help you find the right level UX writer designer in one of the most competitive talent markets in the world. Do reach out to us if you’d like some more information, advice or example case studies of the lessons we’ve learned working with startups in the last 12 months.

Keep an eye out for the final part of the series which will focus on the value and hiring challenges for Serivce Designers.

 


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