Word Design 101

The presentation shows designers how to approach word design using a simple step-by-step process. It then introduces them to the tools and concepts they’ll need to do it well.

They’ll learn how to use language globalisation guidelines; reading level calculators; and design, language, and brand style guides in the writing process. They’ll also learn the elements of tone of voice, the impact of grammar on emotional connection, when (and when not) to reach for the thesaurus, and more. In 20 minutes, we’ll unpack the challenge of word design in a pragmatic way that empowers participants to do it better, starting today.

Georgina Laidlaw – Word Design 101

What is “word design”? No, it’s not about WordArt™. It’s microcopy – text that appears in your product interfaces. Not marketing microcopy, product microcopy.

Three basic goals:

  1. help users get stuff done
  2. don’t confuse people (use plain language, be clear)
  3. work with visual elements (don’t repeat what the interface is already saying, although the words do still need to work on their own)

Example: a screen used to collect a mobile phone number from a user.

The process

  1. audience – who is using this? what is their context?
  2. context – where are they and what’s happening, how are they feeling when they get to the page
  3. component specifications
  4. messaging – what is the page saying
  5. refinement – craft the actual text and refine it

In the case of the mobile phone number screen, the user may be a first-time user setting up their account; or a returning user trying to recover their account. Very different contexts – the new user is probably impatient, the returning user is probably stressed or cranky. The page is made up of components like title, label+input, legals, button, opt-out.

Messaging is not writing – it’s not about the words, it’s about the message. What fundamental thing does this page need to say to users?

Link your phone to your account.
Then you’ll never be locked out.
(We’ll also use your number, by the way.)

The page actually has three things to say.

Refinement tools include house style guides, voice and tone guidelines, design guidelines, reading level calculators, IBM Globalisation guidelines (which helps write translatable English).

Biggest tip to take away: When you have a title and a button on a screen, you want the button to answer the title. It makes it clear whether you are going to be finished when you are done with this page.

The hardest part to sort out is the legals. The reading score for the average bit of legal text is quite high. Many people don’t have the required reading level to confidently process it – non-native English speakers, people with lower education levels, distracted or otherwise intellectually compromised, etc can struggle. We are all contextually compromised on a regular basis! When you change legals you often have to get the resulting text vetted, but you can reduce repetition without removing key meaning.

A useful principle: don’t write things you wouldn’t say.

@georginalaidlaw | tinyletter.com/MelbourneWordSchool