Get to Know the Booming Field of UX Writing
It can be hard to keep up with the dizzying rate at which things change these days. Long-standing professions are dropping like flies and many people are struggling to adapt. Around 10 years ago, this was the case for many graphic designers, who had to start making the transition to product or UX design in order to stay viable. Today, many copywriters are finding they need to make a similar switch and are becoming, wait for it, UX writers!
Just as UX design went through a meteoric rise, UX writing is growing at an exponential rate – everybody needs a UX writer now!
The lovely team of writers from Booking.com grew from 20 to 60 this year, and Google was hiring 100 UX writing contractors that I know of in 2019. Tons of fortune 500 companies and internet giants posted on our UX Writing job board (you can post there too, it’s free forever) that they are hiring a senior UX writer. The demand for writers in tech is exploding.
Why we need UX writers
In order for graphic designers to successfully transition to UX/UI design, they had to take their existing skillset and expand upon it. This meant not just making a layout that looks pretty, but one that is also functional. Copywriters that are transitioning to UX writing face a similar challenge — instead of creating texts that have the sole purpose to sell a product, they now have to guide users through a product using natural, conversational language.
This means UX writers do more than just write the texts found in digital interfaces, they give products personality through the careful use of voice and tone. They even create a guide that dictates to the entire team how the product should speak and ‘behave’ keeping the product voice consistent no matter who writes for it.
Don’t underestimate the importance of UX writing. The trend today for a growing number of digital products is to have a clean, generally white or light background with dark text. This makes the text or copy the focus of the experience, meaning what the product communicates through words becomes even more important.
UX writers go by many names — content strategist, UX copywriters, content designers, and more — but titles aside, at the end of the day we’re seeing massive growth in the number of writers being hired by technology companies. These are the talented people that will give your product a voice!
To hear some of their stories first-hand, you can download my new podcast, Writers in Tech, where I interviewed top content designers and UX writers from companies like Google, Deloitte, Disney, and many more.
The background of a UX writer
If you put 10 UX writers in a room, chances are you’ll have people from 10 different professional backgrounds. Breaking into UX writing is something nearly anyone can do. Companies look for candidates with an aptitude for creative problem-solving rather than a particular range of experiences, since problem-solving is what UX is all about.
When I was a candidate, and still a graphic designer, creating the UX strategy for SodaStream’s website, I met with my soon-to-be boss at a café where he asked me how I plan to solve the range of problems he was facing. Even though I didn’t have much experience in UX design yet, I was able to make an impression by offering creative solutions and was hired to plan one of the biggest e-commerce stores in Israel.
There are a lot of similarities between the journey I had from graphic design to become a product designer and the transition that many people are making today into UX Writing.
The sea change in UX writing
My story of transitioning from graphic to UX design demonstrates a few points about the development of UX writing. The first graphic design projects I worked on were for a couple of bars and restaurants who were not the best clients. They didn’t pay on time and wanted what seemed like 50 iterations on one lousy menu (you decided to add falafel at the last minute, not me!). Rough days.
So when I figured out that UX design was a thing and that I could have amazing clients, more impact, and earn more, I was all-in. Soon after, I got my first UX project — it turned out to be… pretty embarrassing. I basically tried to apply all the skills and techniques I used as a graphic designer and just called it UX design, which is exactly what you shouldn’t do.
This would be similar to a copywriter rewriting a single screen of an app and calling it UX writing. That’s not a great idea!
Now, here we are, years later, and many people are going through a similar process transitioning into UX writing. But instead of graphic artists who don’t fully grasp what UX design is all about, now it’s copywriters, journalists, and many others who are struggling to understand UX writing. While there is some overlap between these two writing disciplines, there are nuanced differences. Copywriting focuses, by and large, on selling something using persuasive or clever copy. And though UX writing often requires sales and marketing language, the majority of the copy in an interface or website needs to instruct or inform the user, not sell them something — two very different styles of writing.
Transition mistakes I’ve made going from graphic design to UX writing
In order to help bridge the gap and help anyone else who wants to break into UX writing, here are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
1. Lack of team communication
In the beginning of my UX career, I didn’t understand that my job was to make products easy to use, not just look nice. If a developer created a component I didn’t like, I would be pretty judgmental about it. Over time, I learned to appreciate that developers need to take many things into consideration regarding the development of the design.
For example, I planned a subscription feature for SodaStream’s website. I had many epiphanies related to the best possible way we can make more people have a monthly subscription of their products, but at the end of the day I made some rookie mistakes and didn’t consider the development process.
After three days of working on a beautiful presentation, I figured out that because of technical limitations, we needed to think about completely different solutions. So, I discovered our limitations, talked to all of the developers in the building and worked on new solutions during the weekend (the deadline clock was ticking!)
The same holds true for UX writers who often need to bridge the gap with stakeholders, marketing team members, and many others. Good communication skills are a must for all UXers out there — writers and designers alike.
2. It was all about the gut feeling
In my very early UX design days, I would make a few assumptions based on a very short competitive analysis. Then I would mistakenly conclude that if those solutions work for the competition, they should work for us too. Big mistake. I quickly learned that speaking to real users provided me with the important data points I needed to create designs that work.
Data-driven UX writing is crucial when creating an interface. UX writers must consider the larger context of the app when writing for a particular screen and things like the user’s state of mind, or how competitors are solving the same challenges must be considered. In UX, uninformed ‘gut decisions’ can take you down the wrong path.
3. I thought I knew better
Okay, so I read all of the Medium articles out there — that must mean I know how to do it and I’m basically an expert, right?. Wrong. Little did I know, a UXer’s worst enemy is their own ego. Looking back, I was a bit ‘overconfident’ for lack of a better word. But once I learned to put my ego aside, I started focusing on what I could learn on each new project rather than just thinking I already knew everything.
And I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to work with many talented people who showed me that it’s all about surrounding yourself with the smartest people rather than thinking you’re the smartest one in the room.
So check your ego at the door. Learn as much as possible by talking with as many people as possible — they may give you insights for solving problems that you never would have thought of on your own.
UX writers are product designers too
UX writing is an exciting and relatively new field. You can’t learn it at most universities, and there aren’t too many courses teaching it, but the demand for it is exploding these days.
As I see it, transitioning from graphic design to UX design (or product design) is actually really similar to the transition from being a writer to becoming a UX writer.
Often, the UX writer must guide the user through the product. If you write copy that isn’t clear, people won’t know how to use the product, and it will diminish the overall user experience.
Part of a UX writer’s job is to make sure error messages like this never happen:
It makes a lot of sense today as an afterthought. But transitioning into UX writing is not as difficult as you might think! These are the skills a writer must have if they want to get into UX:
- Have the mindset of a problem solver
- Be a great communicator (within the product team and of the product)
- Understand how to connect user needs to business goals
- Don’t care to fail, put your ego aside and learn from it
It’s important for new writers in tech to understand how they fit into the product design process. Once writers become a standard part of that process, we’ll start to see a big improvement in the digital products that have become such an integral part of our daily lives.