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A brief guide to UX microcopy

A brief guide to UX microcopy

Illustration inspiration
Illustration by Ouch.pics

hen it comes to design, most people would immediately link it to visuals and appearances and they’re not entirely wrong. But UX design isn’t that simple, it’s more than just aesthetically pleasing interfaces. There’s only so much your design can convey without any written copy.

Think about it, there’s no point in designing a super cool button when the call-to-action is missing — the user will have no idea of its purpose.

“Don’t ever diminish the power of words. Words move hearts and hearts move limbs.” — Hamza Yusuf

Though it isn’t a new term, the role microcopy plays in design is something many UX designers need to become more aware of. A few words are all it takes to have an impact on the user’s experience. With just a few words, you can either encourage your users to complete a purchase or drive them away from your product.

Microcopy vs Copy

Microcopy refers to all the little bits of copy that are not content. These short sentences or words tell a user what to do, address user concerns, and provide context to a component that requires a different approach than traditional marketing-oriented copywriting.

The target audience is where the major difference lies. With content marketing, the greater focus is on the customer — their desires, the problems that they wish to solve with your particular product or service.

In contrast, microcopy focuses on the user, who is the same entity, just at a different stage of their digital journey. Microcopy steps in once the customer becomes the user and now needs some help with adequately using the product or service and getting their desired benefit out of it.

Designers = Writers?

Traditionally, microcopy has always been done by the UX designer; maybe with help from the marketing team. Yet writing and language proficiency are not typically something designers are well-versed in. It’s outside the scope of our expertise and responsibilities, and tasking us to come out with stellar copy alongside a great design might lead to burnout or subpar results.

This is why we’re witnessing a rise of a new position and job scope that focuses exclusively on microcopy — the UX writer. Whereas the UX designer focuses on the visual aspects of the design, the UX writer takes care of its linguistic peculiarities.

A UX writer’s job is to help the user have a positive experience while using the product. They need to understand the user’s pain point and behavior, in order to craft engaging microcopy and improve the product’s overall usability.

UX writers are an integral part of the UX team, and they work closely with business development, strategy, marketing, and sales to understand their perspectives and incorporate them into the product experience.

The benefits of microcopy

An effective microcopy seeks to understand and anticipate the user’s expectations. It allows the user to feel like they are having a conversation with the interface. Users desire more than just pretty colors and nice illustrations on their screen, they want to be understood.

We must keep in mind that the copy is often the most human part of the entire interaction with our product. It is the element which allows the product to speak with its users, answering their questions, giving them directions, and prompting them to take action

Below are some key benefits of an effective microcopy:

Removing doubt and confusion

Users drop out of the conversion funnel for all kinds of reasons. I’m not saying that UX writing would solve all your problems but it would definitely help if your users drop out due to the following reasons:

  • Ambiguous or confusing messages
  • Too many jargons
  • Unclear shipping charges
  • Not enough information is given about the product
  • Uncertainty on how to proceed

Mailchimp

Mailchimp does a good job by explicitly telling their users the requirements for their password which prevents them from encountering multiple errors.

UX microcopy

This example from Dribbble shows how a few sentences can not only provide context into what the product is about, but also prompt action with a call-to-action button.

A brief guide to UX microcopy

When it comes to microcopy, less is more. Keep it simple and straight to the point. WeTransfer’s microcopy is short and concise, yet it clearly explains the benefits of using it.

 

Foster relationships and connection

Blending emotions into your microcopy creates an energy-filled atmosphere where trust grows and users are more willing to act. It will also add a human element to your product, which could make a difference between a positive and generic experience.

Always remember to be empathetic and use the correct tone at the right time. If an error occurs or the user needs help, using the wrong words could backfire and leave a negative impression on the user.

UX microcopy

Muzzle does a great job of being fun and delightful by showing a list of notification messages with cheeky content to illustrate their point and show the benefit of their feature — blocking notifications from your screen.

A brief guide to UX microcopy

Microcopy provides brands with further opportunities to convey personality. Dollar Shave Club, which is known for its sarcastic and humorous tone of voice, adds extra bullet-points to product descriptions purely for entertainment purposes.

Builds trust and confidence

Digital products tend to raise some inherent concerns, such as security and privacy. If a product isn’t transparent, it may cause users to hesitate, think twice, and ultimately abandon it. From the user’s point of view, these are some of the questions they might ask themselves — can be extracted through user research:

  • Why are you asking for my phone number?
  • Will you spam me with marketing emails?
  • Why do you need my credit card when it’s free?
  • What do I have to do to not get charged?
  • Is this process secure?

Microcopy can be used to respond to those questions, giving users the confidence they need to see the process through to completion.

UX microcopy

Linkedin builds trust by explaining why it requires the user’s credit card for a free trial — eliminating any doubt or fears that the user will be charged for it. It’s better to be upfront to your user, especially if you require them to give you confidential information; or if payment is part of the process.

 

“Small words can have a significant impact”

The benefits of effective UX microcopy are substantial; increased user engagement, brand loyalty, trust, and frictionless product experiences. When used correctly, good microcopy can help your product stand out in a highly competitive market.

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A brief guide to UX microcopy

Via Jeremiah Lam

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Design Tips UI Design UX Design

What Does A UX Designer Actually Do?

UX designers working on a whiteboard

What is UX design, and what does a UX designer actually do? It’s a question I’ve been asked frequently since completing the CareerFoundry UX Design Program. Surprisingly, the question comes not only from friends and family, but also from employers and people who work in the tech industry.

There’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the field, which is why, as a UX designer, you’ll often find that your first task in a new job is to clearly explain the value you’ll be bringing to the company and how you’ll do so.

The purpose of this post is two-fold. If you’re new to UX design, it will provide a clear explanation of what UX is and what it entails. If you’re a UX designer, it aims to equip you with a clear and concise answer to that all-too-frequent question: What does a UX designer do?

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. What is UX design?
  2. What does a UX designer do?
  3. What are the typical tasks and processes of a UX designer?
  4. What skills does a UX designer need?
  5. Wrap-up and further reading

So what does a UX designer actually do? Let’s find out.

1. What is UX design?

Before we explore what a UX designer does, it’s important to first establish what UX design actually is. UX design focuses on the interaction between real human users (like you and me) and everyday products and services, such as websites, apps, and even coffee machines. It’s an extremely varied discipline, combining aspects of psychology, business, market research, design, and technology. As you can see, UX designers are expected to wear many different hats! We’ll take a closer look at what a UX designer does in section two. First, let’s consider where the term UX design comes from and how it has evolved.

UX is not new. In fact, the term has been around since the early nineties, coined by Donald Norman when he worked for Apple as a cognitive scientist. Don Norman was interested in all aspects of a user’s experience with a product or service, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, and physical interaction. To encompass all of the different elements that determine how a user feels while interacting with a product, he came up with the term “user experience”.

You can delve deeper into the history of UX design here. If you’re looking for a really in-depth exploration of UX design, then I’d recommend this UX guide—or simply hit play on the video below for a more gentle introduction.

 

Since the term came about, UX design has grown to be synonymous with good business; only those products and services that provide a seamless user experience will succeed on the market. With that, the demand for UX designers has radically increased—and, as the technology market continues to evolve, UX designers are more crucial than ever. The demand for UX designers is reflected in both the average UX designer salaries and the employment market for UX professionals.

UX design in action

So we know that UX designers are important, and we have a working definition of the term “UX”—but what does it actually look like in action?

Let’s imagine you’re shopping for a pair of shoes online. You find yourself in the “shoe” category, and there are over three hundred different pairs to browse—great! Then you realize there’s no way to filter the results, meaning you have to scroll through hundreds of unsuitable shoes before you find what you’re after. You get there in the end, and add them to your basket. You’re ready to make a purchase and, as a new customer, you have to create a new account. Ok, no problem—until you see that there are at least ten mandatory fields to be filled in! Buying your shoes on this website is starting to feel like more hassle than it’s worth, so you decide to abandon ship and look elsewhere.

That’s what you call a bad user experience. UX doesn’t only apply to websites, though; any kind of product or service you come into contact with evokes a certain type of experience. Is it easy to use? Does it enable you to complete your desired tasks with minimum effort? Is it logical and efficient? These are all indicators of a good or bad user experience.

Now we’ve established what UX design is, let’s return to our original question: What does a UX designer actually do?

Ryan planning a UX design sprint

2. What does a UX designer do?

If you’re considering a career as a UX designer, you’ll want to know how UX designers work on a day-to-day basis. what kinds of projects can you expect to work on? What is your role within a company? What does a UX designer actually do?

“How do I explain what I do at a party? The short version is that I say I humanize technology.” — Fred Beecher, Director of UX, The Nerdery

Fred Beecher sums up the role of the UX designer rather nicely. As a UX designer, you’re there to make products and technology usable, enjoyable, and accessible for humans. UX designers tend to work as part of a wider product team, and will often find themselves bridging the gap between the user, the development team, and key business stakeholders. As a UX designer, it’s your job first and foremost to advocate for the end user or customer. Whether you’re designing a brand new product, coming up with a new feature, or making changes to an existing product or service—the UX designer must consider what’s best for the user and the overall user experience. At the same time, you are also responsible for making sure that the product or service meets the needs of the business. Does it align with the CEO’s vision? Will it help to increase revenue or retain loyal customers?

As for the kinds of projects you’ll work on, this will vary dramatically from company to company, as will the size of your team, and your priorities. You may find yourself designing websites, mobile apps, and software, or even designing for voice, AR and VR devices! Some UX designers focus on service design rather than tangible products, such as designing the overall experience of using public transport or staying in a hotel. Within the UX designer job title, there are lots of specialist roles. We’ve broken down some of the most common UX job titles and what they mean in this guide.

UX designer reviewing a wireframe

When it comes to everyday tasks, these will also vary depending on your role and the company you work for. My experience of working in UX has involved elements of research, testing, business analysis, project management and psychology, as well as the more hands-on design tasks such as wireframing and prototyping. Despite the variety the role offers, there are some general functions that a UX designer can be expected to perform, including:

  • Conducting user research
  • Creating user personas
  • Determining the information architecture of a digital product
  • Designing user flows and wireframes
  • Creating prototypes
  • Conducting user testing

It is important to be aware that UX designers are not typically responsible for the visual design of a product. Rather, they focus on the journey that the user takes and how the product is structured to facilitate this journey. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the UX design process and some of the key tasks that a UX designer will perform.

3. What are the typical tasks and processes of a UX designer?

As a UX designer, you’ll go through each step in the UX design process to make sure that any and all products are designed with the user in mind. So what kinds of tasks can you expect to carry out on a day to day basis? For a glimpse into a typical day in the life of a UX designer, check out the video below.

Now let’s take a closer look at the kinds of tasks that typically fall into the UX designer role.

  • Conducting user research
  • Personas and information architecture
  • User flows and wireframes
  • Prototyping and user testing
  • Visual design

Conducting user research

The initial stage in the UX design process is where the research (magic) happens. Generally, a UX designer will get a brief from the client or their manager asking them to do some project research.

Let’s use the fictitious fast food chain “Foodies” as an example. Imagine Foodies approach you because they want to design a new app. Firstly, it would be the UX designer’s role to combine desk-based and field research to get a full picture of who they are designing for. This might include reviewing what the current website has to offer, interviewing existing users to identify opportunities and pain-points, and doing competitor research to see what else is out there.

These tasks enable the UX designer to pinpoint the core features needed for the Minimum Viable Product (in other words, the first iteration of a product that you’ll release) and to start creating some initial user personas. For Foodies, the core features might be a menu, the ability to make online reservations, and a local branch finder.

In a nutshell, the user research phase is when you scope out the project, identifying exactly who you’re designing for and what the users’ goals and challenges are in relation to the product. You can learn more about the importance of user research and how to do it in this guide or explore this set of free UX research tutorials.

Personas and information architecture

Based on extensive user research, UX designers might then create user personas. This is where you delve deeper into what tasks each persona wants to perform and why. A typical persona for Foodies might be Samantha, a go-getting 20-something who likes eating artisan salads on her lunch break. An example task for her persona might be:

“Samantha likes to pre-order the Moroccan Lamb Salad via the mobile app as it saves her time between meetings.”

Another popular approach which might be used in conjunction with (or as an alternative to) user personas is jobs-to-be-done (JTBD). You can find a full comparison between personas and JTBD here.

Next, you’ll start thinking about the kind of content needed and how it will be structured across the website or app. This is what’s known as information architecture; working out the most logical layout and organization of the content. A good information architecture makes sure that the user can easily find what they’re looking for and intuitively navigate from one page to the next without too much thought.

User flows and wireframes

UX designers use a range of tools to map out the user’s journey through a product, including user flows and wireframes. User flows are basic flowcharts which visualize the complete path a user takes when using a product, from entry point right through to the final interaction. You can learn more in this introductory guide to user flows. While user flows map out the entire user journey, wireframes provide a two-dimensional outline of a single screen or page. We’ve covered the wireframing process in more detail here.

UX designer making wireframes

Prototyping and user testing

With the product layout mapped out, the UX designer will then create prototypes and run some user tests. A prototype is simply a scaled-down version of your product; a simulation which enables you to test your designs before they get developed. Prototypes range from the simplest of paper models to the more realistic, high-fidelity interactive prototypes which closely mimic the final product.

Testing your prototypes on real users helps to highlight any design flaws before you create the final product. Several rounds of testing could take place before the design is completely right. Once it is, the new product is finally ready to go into development. UX designers also attend sprint meetings, overseeing product development to make sure there aren’t any feature creeps (which often happens in my experience!) and helping to make small refinements to the design as and when necessary.

UX designer discussing user testing

Visual design

You’ll notice that none of the above tasks are concerned with the visual design of the product. While some UX designers will also specialize in visual design, it tends to fall under user interface (UI) design. So, the final imagery, color schemes, icons, and typography will usually be taken care of by a UI designer. If you’re confused about the difference between the two roles, here’s a great guide explaining the differences between UX and UI design.

One final point to make is that a UX designer’s work is rarely finished after the product launch. There will be refinements, small changes, new releases, feedback to gather and analytics to discuss with the team. The UX design process is highly iterative, and a career in UX is as much about collaboration and coordination as it is about design.

UI designer talking to UX designer

4. What skills does a UX designer need?

With such a varied range of tasks, UX designers need to have a very diverse skill set. Besides technical and design skills like wireframing, prototyping and interpreting data and feedback, UX designers also need certain “soft” skills.

Adaptability, communication, empathy, problem-solving and teamwork are all essential soft skills. As a UX designer, it’s important that you can collaborate effectively with those around you—from clients and stakeholders to developers and fellow designers, all the way through to the end user.

Business knowledge also goes a long way in the UX design industry. It’s important to understand both the goals of the company and the needs of the target audience, and to align these when coming up with design solutions.

 

5. Wrap-up and further reading

As you can see, UX is a fascinating, varied, and highly satisfying career path which could take you in many directions. Hopefully you now have a good idea of what a UX designer actually does, and how to explain it to anyone who asks! If you’re keen to learn more about what it’s like to work in UX, check out the following, or simply get in touch with us to find out about how we can take you from complete beginner to a hired UX designer in as little as six months with the CareerFoundry UX Design Program.

  • How to become a UX designer
  • A guide to the best UX design bootcamps and how to choose one
  • Should I do a UX design bootcamp or a UX design internship?

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What Does A UX Designer Actually Do?

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