#6 — Bad copy will ruin your designs

✍️ Design with words

Hey there, design friends!

Spring is here in the North Emisphere, and pollen hasn’t been my friend.

This week I’m talking about UX copy which I initially meant to send last week but couldn't finish as I was busy sneezing 🤧

Happy reading,
Julie — @syswarren

Resources and links
Design with words

✨ Copy Book - A collection of commonly used texts in user interfaces
🤓 Web Writing Checklist - For usability and effectiveness of your content
💯 Readability Guidelines - A collaboratively developed, universal content style guide based on usability evidence

📘 Content Design by Sarah Winters
📙 Strategic Writing for UX by Torrey Podmajersky

Good UI can't fix bad copy

Good UI can't fix bad copy

⏱️ Reading time: 3 min 21 sec

As a solo designer, your team probably has no UX writer or content designer.

When designing an interface, you create a way for people to communicate with a product. And words are an essential component, at the same level — if not higher — than icons, colors, or typography.

Developing UX writing skills can help you design better interfaces: one word can increase comprehension, conversion rate, or trust. Good writing can help you be more efficient: changing copy is quicker than redesigning an entire flow.

As someone with a "Lorem Ipsum" tattoo, I beg you not to use fake text in your designs. Creating good interfaces requires viewing copy as part of the design. While the text on your designs may not be final, it should provide direction and context.

Designing content

You could be a great blogger or novelist and be a terrible UX writer. Most people don't know how to talk to users because they don't understand who "users" are.

Users aren't potential leads or people Marketing is trying to attract. Users are already using your product and trying to do something. Keep this in mind and put yourself in their shoes when writing copy.

💡 Good writing rules

  • Clear: I can understand even if I'm not an expert

  • Short: it focuses on what matters now

  • Aware: it takes my current situation into account

  • Helpful: it helps me with my goal

  • Honest: it's not trying to trick me into something

  • Spoken: the interface is having a conversation with me

Who are you talking to?

Your product won't "speak" the same if it's an enterprise product, a gaming community, or a medical platform.

The rules you create for a product might be different from the next. While you have a personal writing style, remember that UX writing is the product speaking. Not you.

💡 Find the product’s voice

  • Research how products with similar audiences "speak"

  • Create personas to help write copy that works for the users

  • Inventory existing copy

An inventory will give you a sense of the existing tone of voice. It'll also help you identify copy that seems off-brand.

Make it clear

Good copy should help users quickly understand what they can do and how, even if they don't read every word.

Don't assume people will understand technical terms, acronyms… or your jokes.

Being understood is more important than sounding smart or funny

💡 Keep it simple

  • Use plain language

  • If a technical term is required, explain it

  • Avoid idioms, jargon, and acronyms

  • Remove unnecessary words

Words in interfaces are meant for interaction, like a conversation between the product and the users. You can read the copy aloud and see if it sounds natural. Make changes if it feels like a speech vs. a conversation.

Aware and useful

Without UX writers, designers are the best positioned to write copy. You understand the problems the design aims to solve, and you are in the context.

If you're designing an error state, you know the user is facing an unpleasant situation. The copy should be aware of the current situation.

💡 Adapt to the situation

  • What are the users trying to do?

  • What do they need to know?

  • What information isn't needed right now?

  • If the situation requires reassurance, what can be said?

True and accurate

UX copy is not about promoting something. It needs to be accurate and true. The text on an interface isn't meant to brag about how "awesome" your product is, how "life-changing" the service is, or how "great" this new feature is.

💡 Copy checklist

  • Can it be shorter?

  • Are there adjectives or modifiers? (amazing, game-changer…)

  • Is the copy talking about you? (our company, our users…)

  • Is the copy trying to tell users how to feel? (Happy, excited…)

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, edit your copy.

For a more exhaustive checklist, you can also use the Web Writing Checklist I mentioned earlier.

Your interface's voice

When you speak, you have your style, your voice.
When you write copy for a product, you give it a voice.

Does the interface talk in American English or British English? What are the rules regarding exclamation marks?! Do you use sentence casing or title casing in UI elements? (there is only one correct answer here 😒)

With guidelines, you can create a voice and build a cohesive user experience.

💡 Develop and follow guidelines

  • Create rules on how to write

  • Create a product vocabulary and stick to it

  • Define a tone of voice

Atlassian has solid content guidelines that could help you get started.

Atlassian’s content guidelines

UX copy can also be tested. Simple A/B tests help identify what words or sentences work best. Focusing on text during user interviews can help identify pain points and learn what vocabulary people naturally use.

💡 Test the text

  • Test copy during user interviews

  • Run A/B tests to make data-driven decisions

  • Update the guidelines with your learnings


  • Design with words in mind: As a solo designer, you most likely write copy when you design already. See text as a design component.

  • Write for users: Text can affect comprehension, success, and trust in a product. Always keep users in mind.

  • Clear and simple: Text should be clear, concise, and free from technical terms and acronyms. It should help users quickly understand what they can do and how to do it.

  • True and accurate: UX copy is not about selling; it's about telling. Avoid unnecessary adjectives, and don't tell users how to feel.

  • Consistent voice: Guidelines can help create a consistent voice, but text is never set in stone and can always be tested and refined.

Community spotlight

This week, I’d like to shine some light on Camille Promerat, the first UX Writer and Content Designer I had the chance to work with earlier in my career.

Camille shared 2 tips for us designers:
1. Keep it simple, don’t try to look cool or funny
2. Don’t hesitate to write down what you want your interface to say on paper before starting your designs


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