A to M of successful UX design for copy – Part 1

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Audience

Who is the audience? Write for your primary audience. Ensure the design and copy are aimed at the same audience. Work with the designer to achieve this.

Do you want the user to feel that they’ve found the right website? If so, reflect them in the visual and textual elements of the site. Don’t write copy that needs most people to visit Urban Dictionary to understand it and then show images of grey-haired individuals. Similarly, don’t depict Millennials on sites aimed at older users.

Bridge the gap

Copy cannot stand alone, so be prepared to bridge the gap between designers and copywriters. As a writer you may know that “Join Now!” is more impactful than “Register here” but does the designer know that? Can you explain why you need descriptive URLs, unique call-to-action buttons plus sub-heads and bulleted lists?

Create user personas

By creating user personas, you can keep the reader/user at the forefront of design and copy. The US Government has an excellent site on usability and a simple guide on persona development.

Design for copy

Does the design leave any space for copy? How many words are needed to describe the product/service/event? Copy should enhance the design. Consider:

  • audience appeal
  • style, and
  • tone of voice

Beware the concrete pour (a thick slab of text that is so dense that no one can – or wants to – penetrate it). Ensure that your designer understands why you need text treated like graphical elements (see bridge the gap).

Embed labels in descriptive language

Labels – links should tell you what they do and not just “learn more” or “read more” or “sign up”. Also, make links longer – so people with limited hand control can click on them.

Fonts

Be prepared to talk x-heights and readability. There’s little point in writing peerless prose if the font is unreadable for your 60-years-plus audience.

If the designer really wants Proxima Nova, explain why it’s unreadable on cheap monitors by old people (and lots of old people have cheap monitors). Proxima Nova does look gorgeous on a 27-inch Mac but the subscribers of the local library probably bought a $400 laptop from Officeworks that has Arial and Times New Roman installed.

Guidelines

Sometimes clients have brand guidelines, user guidelines, and style guides – if they do; great. Otherwise, you will need to write a style guide for the site. Base it on materials provided, their existing site and/or stakeholder meetings plus user research.

Ask the client what dictionary they use – the Macquarie (Australia), the Oxford (UK), Merriam Webster (US). If they neither know nor care, research similar sites and see what spelling they use. Stick to the one spelling (users and readers like consistency – they may not know it but their behaviour tells us that they do). Make sure the designer knows the guidelines – create a design cheat sheet if necessary.

Home

There’s no place like home and no page like the home page. Make it accessible and relevant. So many sites make users work to find information – click this, open that, swat that pop up. Collaborate with the designer to ensure the home page copy gives the user what they want – easily, immediately and relevantly.

Just because the designer loves the infinite scroll, ensure the user is remembered and write the copy for them. See how we rank digital copy at The Copy Collective.

Information Architecture

Use information architecture hierarchy to let users know what’s important. Write copy accordingly – longer copy is not better copy (as you know). You need to strike a balance between copy for the user/reader and copy for Google.

Just do it

It’s a great tagline for Nike but doesn’t work for copy. It’s important that copy is considered as part of the design from the beginning. Giving copy to a junior or a designer juggling multiple roles isn’t going to get to the heart of things.

A designer who’s written copy has penned a useful blog on the subject. It should be noted this designer uses US spelling and confuses complimentary and complementary and past and last – apart from that it is v helpful for designers and copywriters.

Keywords

Focus on personas – who uses the content, what are they looking for.

Content needs to be readable, scannable and informative and the keywords should stand out. The reader is the main user not Google but Google is our secondary user.

What questions are our readers/users seeking to answer? Google will reward you if you know.

Logic

Have the copy follow an internal logic. For example, if you use bulleted lists or other hierarchies ensure they follow an easily identifiable schema.

Alphabetic order is the simplest schema and everyone recognises it instantly. You could also consider geographical schemas or topic or theme related (females/males, fairies/elves, Northern Hemisphere/Southern Hemisphere, city/country, modern/historical). By ordering content in a way that users recognise, you make it easier for them to absorb and find the information they want. Remember, users aren’t heroes and they don’t want to be taken on a monomythic journey where they overcome obstacles. They want information presented to them in a logical manner and they want the stuff they are looking for found easily.

Mobile

How many of your visitors are on mobile devices? By using a mobile-first strategy you can ensure that you keep content simple. It also means shorter navigation titles (join, search, home, login).

 

Part two will be published next week – stay tuned for N to Z 

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About

Maureen Shelley is CEO and owner of TCC. She is an experienced digital and content strategist and was a nationally-syndicated journalist. Our all-round guru. Maureen manages corporate, digital and government projects for TCC. She loves helping clients and, with three masters degrees, knows lots.

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