Understanding “UX Writing” & “Content Design”

Understanding “UX Writing” & “Content Design”

2019, Jul 22    

Product design, content strategy, and copywriting are clearly-defined skillsets and roles that have existed in companies since the beginning of the web, and there has been a growing appreciation for all of them over the past decade with the rise of “EQ” in Silicon Valley and the realization that creative expertise and understanding how to communicate with users is crucial to building a good product.

More recently, these skillsets have begun to collide and merge into the new, in-demand role of “UX writer,” which is sometimes referred to as “UX copywriter” or “content designer.” Top tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have been hiring for these roles for several years, and this movement has been trickling down to startups globally who want to better leverage the power of content and storytelling to connect with their users.

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Storytelling in Product Development

As a writer, marketer, and product manager, I have always understood the need to tell a compelling story during the product development process. When I was working in Japan as the Director of Product for a SaaS app for the concierge teams at The Ritz-Carlton and Grand Hyatt, one of my first tasks was to gain a better understanding of the end-user (the hotel guest) and create real-world user stories to determine what features and workflows we would build into our MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

Like all good user stories, what we came up with was simple: a guest arrives in Tokyo for business and wants to buy a new handbag or briefcase. Using our product, PINSTOP, the concierge at the Ritz could create a custom, multi-point map feed with directions to the best shopping the city has to offer, like the Louis Vuitton and Coach concept stores in the Omotesando district. The concierge could then print out and send the guest an SMS with a link to their PINSTOP feed in the guest’s own language and with Japanese addresses clearly displayed for cab drivers.

The exercise of developing user stories is nothing new for product managers, as it has always been a fundamental part of creating a great overall user experience. However, the copy that guides the user through the product is an often overlooked yet crucial part of this experience. In this case, it was the text we wrote into the product to help the concierge provide a 5-star guest experience as efficiently as possible, while ultimately helping the guest make the most of their time in Japan.

Enter: The UX Writer

This is where a UX writer can come in to take a product to the next level. The UX writer’s primary function is to craft the in-product copy in accordance with a clear and compelling narrative that works seamlessly within the product design. This includes button copy, success and error messages, confirmation emails, and every other piece of content in the app that guides a user from point A to point B.

The UX writer should also champion or assist with tasks that were either left to product managers and designers in the past or simply not thought about on product teams at all, including market research, developing the brand voice, user interviews, usability testing, and more.

Ultimately, the UX writer is dedicated to creating a cohesive content experience that encompasses every user touchpoint within the product. When done right, this content should make the user experience more engaging, conversational, and human.

This is distinctly different from content marketing and copywriting that generates leads and creates brand awareness in the market, which should not be confused with creating a user experience for a product. For any company building a product, it makes sense to carve out a dedicated role for this kind of expertise.

UX Writer, or Content Designer?

If you’ve seen the term “UX writer” previously, you have probably seen its sister, “content designer.” There has been some ambiguity and dissent in the product world regarding the difference between the two, and you can often see them used interchangeably. This, again, is a testament to just how new these roles are within most organizations.

The general consensus seems to be that the “content designer” is a more high-level, strategic role with a larger impact on the product, while the “UX writer” might be strictly focused on writing copy. In my opinion, the term that is used is less important than what the role actually means for the specific project.

The Future of UX Writing & Content Design

As we look to the future of consumer tech products, the importance and opportunities in UX writing and content design are only set to rise with the rapid growth of conversational AI.

According to Georgian Partners, Conversational AI is “the use of messaging apps, speech-based assistants and chatbots to automate communication and create personalized customer experiences at scale.”

Consumers today are already used to engaging with voice interfaces like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home in their day-to-day lives, and 15% of American adults say they have interacted with a chatbot at least once, while 40% of millennials say they engage with chatbots daily.

These interactive content experiences rely on sophisticated content design, with interfaces that not only answer user questions but provide feedback to the user and help them navigate complex systems. This gives rise to the role of “conversational designer,” focused on designing content that makes robots seem human.

Becoming a UX Writer

According to Anastasiia Marushevska, Head of Communication at DjangoStars.com, “The skillset of the UX writer includes a) UX design and usability, b) wireframing, and c) interfaces. It’s also helpful to know the essentials of behavioral psychology and decision-making.”

So, can someone with experience with the product development process and more general content strategy become a good UX writer? Yes! This type of role is relatively new, and the world of UX is constantly evolving, providing lots of room for clever writers to not only grow into this space but help define it.

There are lots of great resources out there for learning the technical ins-and-outs of UX writing and content design. I enjoy the Writers of Silicon Valley podcast hosted by Patrick Stafford, who also offers a full course on UX writing called the UX Writers Collective (I have not taken it myself, but heard good things).

This blog was originally posted on Medium–be sure to follow and clap!