Writing the user experience

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Language is typically the interface on almost every site, to paraphrase Jeffrey Zeldman, publisher of A List Apart. Even on Flickr, an inherently visual site, the navigation is text. That means word choice is critical. Yet most companies budget very little for content and writing.

So, if your site is meant to compel people to do something, and they’re supposed to read language in order to know what that something is, and you’re not a writer, what can you do?

One of the main ways is with your design. Good design helps people read less. If you go to your local paper, online or off, and you’re interested in the weather but not politics, you can skip to the weather section.

So if design helps people read less, and you practice good design, that means there’s less copy to read. And that means every word counts.

Fortunately, copy is one of the easiest and most affordable things to create. That’s because any writer worth his or her salt wants to do a good job and all the writer needs, really, is your research, direction and a computer and off they go. Plus you usually only need one writer to do the job.

What, no budget? Here’s how to create one.

Copy is a chance to test usability and effectiveness for your users. And in fact, that’s how you should be using it. Just like good direct marketing, copy should be part of your ongoing test-and-refine strategy. So put copywriting into your usability budget, because that’s what it is. Then find yourself a good freelance copywriter.

OK, so what makes a good copywriter?

A good writer knows how to get inside your customers’ heads and figure out what drives them so that you can be their advocate. A good writer starts with the user because that’s who you’re ultimately designing and building for.

A good writer knows when the copy needs to let the design do the heavy lifting. How to make your copy audience appropriate. How to be clear and directional. How to get the user to take action. When the tone should be over-the-top, or friendly, or not too friendly but still informal, or very formal. When the words need to do heavy lifting for more complicated activities, requiring a seamless combination of good engineering and good copywriting.

And a good writer knows how to do all that in as few words as possible.

Need a good freelance copywriter? Email me and let’s craft your user’s experience together.