October 17, 2021

La Ronge Northerner

Complete Canadian News World

The essence of UX (user experience) texts

Recently I read an article about UX writing that it is “a specialized form of writing because of its context (software) and the environment in which it’s produced (technology companies)”. I disagree. There is nothing new about it. It is nothing more than what has been done for ages, such as on doors “Toilet”, the buttons and names or symbols used on TVs, remote controls, or section names with arrows pointing in a building. So in use it is about how to use a device or how to get something done or how to get somewhere. It is also common in advertising in making something clear quickly with the least amount of time for an ad (= cost) or smallest text (more text = more cost). So the essence of all these uses is to make clear in a concise way what you want to convey.

The article further stated that “You encounter UX writing every time you use an app or the internet. When it’s doing its job well, you don’t even notice it.”. On the internet this was not at all needed nor did you see it all that much until websites started to become simplified (which are often actually what in German is called a ‘Verschlimmbesserung’, i.e. an ‘improvement’ which is actually something that was made worse), which was done a lot a few years ago to make websites more useable on mobile phones, even if they were hardly very useful on such devices. The change was to make widths for example fixed to 640 pixels, as I also saw on a bicycle website, a regression back to the 1990s! Further you saw some simplifications by using pictograms, that only work if you know the meaning of those pictograms! In many cases for websites the creators didn’t want to make both proper websites + limited websites that are better viewable for use on mobile phones, and thus they regressed their sites to such simple sites. I’ve seen this with the aforementioned bicycle website but for example also with some 2nd hand sites.

The real essence of UX writing is nothing more than making things as small, as simple and as easily understandable as possible. For standard websites, using lots of pictograms is not easier unless they are standardised. Even then text is at least as good and there is no need for minimalism in standard websites. Grabbing attention in a quick way towards or on a website is what you see in links to and on any commercial site, from 2nd hand sites such as ebay, to casino sites such as CasinoChan.

So the real challenge is to use pictograms and short text, where they make sense. But the text should not be made too short, sometimes longer text is advantageous in various situations. This tradeoff is really nothing more than design efficiency, and has little to do with text writing, nor with apps. It is something universal. Traffic signs are another example of such work, namely using short texts and symbols that are simple and therefore quickly to process and to then respond to.

Besides this elevation of ‘UX writing’ to something special, the language in the article and similar ones on other topics is often rather clumsy and indirect or mentioning things that are not of interest. Instead of explicitly and clearly stating the essence of the goals and where it’s useful, there is for example mention of ‘stakeholders’ or how to get into this work. Why would anyone get into that directly for that purpose, except by actually having experience in analysis of software and situations and how people react and deal with software? The problems that people encounter with software should with their description automatically make a programmer aware of how the design should be, except that they often look at everything from their perspective: They know how the program works, so they know what sort of inputs make sense. You really don’t need the ability to write good texts, but you need to be able to see the program or website or apparatus from the perspective of a user, rather than a designer. Then UX writing comes naturally except that symbols may need to be defined by you. I think that such jobs are really too specialised and it makes little sense to search for such people, it makes far more sense to search for people who understand how to make clear to others on how use a product/site/application which is related to understanding how to analyse what goes on in a system, which is a general ability, not related to apps, nor websites, nor appliances.