Interactions that build relationships

All the small things: creating appealing digital products with microcopy

All the small things: creating appealing digital products with microcopy —

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All the small things: creating appealing digital products with microcopy

What if you had a friend who helped you quickly find what you are looking for, simplified tedious tasks, made you smile and inspired creativity?

All these wonderful things are the mission of microcopy, tiny text fragments that give a voice to digital products and services and help users accomplish their goal in the most efficient and pleasant way.

We put this article together to explain how microcopy works and why you need it, look at the most common mistakes and share a few awesome examples.

Micro Copy Intro

Meditation app Headspace and VPN service provider TunnelBear use cute images to make their calls to action even friendlier

Why do we need microcopy in the first place?

Interface copy is a part of the brand that needs to be developed and thought through along with brandbook, logo, fonts, colors and icons. Frequently forgotten and deprioritized, it has the power to dramatically improve your UX, boost your customers’ loyalty, and, eventually, increase your earnings. 

Microcopy makes products appealing and memorable and has the power to save the day even when they fail to function. 

Texts in the interface are an important tool for the emotional journey. They can explain how something works, inform about a potential error and build trust. Microcopy adds a personal touch to your interaction and shows that you care about every detail.

 

Emotional journey on the website of HURU — Ukrainian brand of functional backpacks. The page was created by Bachoo Design Studio

After all, microcopy is just fun, we all enjoy finding Easter eggs and sharing them with friends. However, you shouldn’t overdo it: excessive jokes or word plays may distract or annoy the user.

Ok microcopy, make people fall in love with my product

The key mission of interface texts is to facilitate a smooth user journey with non-intrusive interface notifications, pop-ups, hints and simple text explanations. Microcopy can also nudge the users in the right direction, inspire with sample passwords and creative file names, encourage to provide more information or use the product more frequently.

Booking.com encourages to write more detailed reviews. The message changes as you write more

Dropbox thanks you for creating digital documents and saving the trees

Create rituals and share useful facts

Microcopy can be a source of helpful or inspiring additional information. You can add a few “did you know” facts about your company to the functional pages or share the statistics that highlight the benefits of your service.

A couple of ‘Did you know?” facts on the loading screen of Duolingo, one of the most popular language learning apps

If your users need to repeat the same operations every now and then, surprise them with various images or texts.

Show empathy in challenging situations

Whenever users have to wait for a page to load or cannot accomplish a task on the website or in the app, they get frustrated. Support them with a friendly message, virtual hug or a cheering gif. Don’t apologize, rather show gratitude for bearing with you: “thank you for your patience” sounds better than “sorry for waiting”. 

Give your users choice and space and avoid being patronizing: the task of your microcopy is to delicately stand aside and only jump in when asked for help. Explain the users why they need to provide particular information and give preference to soft words like “may” or “might” over more restrictive “must” and “have to”.

Headspace wants to learn more about your meditation habits and asks a few questions to offer the most appropriate routine

Make “dead ends” work for you

According to UX Collective, 74% of users encountering a 404 error page immediately leave the website. Most content management systems offer generic page templates which you should absolutely customize. Use your brand color, experiment with the message or simply link to the functional website pages. 

Collect feedback and offer incentives on your payment confirmation and unsubscribe pages to encourage the next purchase or convince the customers to give your newsletter or service another try.

When there is an error or a bug on your website or in your app, communicate in plain text what happened, when it will be fixed and what is the current workaround. It is important for the users to understand whether they can resolve an issue on their own or have to wait for resolution from your side.

 

Handle objections

If your users may have concerns regarding their private data utilization, hidden payments or opt-ins, address them proactively in your microcopy.

Let your users easily enable or deactivate particular features based on their preferences

Let’s make UX great again with microcopy

Interface texts are a result of a joint cooperation between a UX designer, copywriter, product owner and customer-facing support team. As a first step, you need to fully dive into the tasks and expectations, fears, complications and challenges that users face on every stage of their interaction with the interface.

To do this in a structured way, we create an emotional journey map. Once we understand which emotions our users experience on every stage, it gets clear which type of copy will be helpful in these scenarios.  

Based on the emotional journey map, a UX designer identifies the user flow as well as the sequence of screens while a copywriter establishes the tone of voice and consistent terminology. 

As a next step, we invite a few inexperienced users and watch them interact with our product. 

Remember that covering the basic needs along the user journey is just the first step: Many users don’t know exactly what they want and cannot voice their concerns. Observations help: write down every scenario where the users visibly struggle, fix all the issues and repeat this step a few more times. 

Once you launch the product, remain in touch with tech support team: collect their actionable feedback and improve the parts that caused trouble.

One of Bachoo clients aimed to create a mobile application with a lot of jargon for a particular target audience. We conducted a series of in-depth interviews with various user groups to align the terminology and build an equally appealing interface for both seasoned users and newbies. 

Base your decisions on data: Google Analytics or equivalent reports will help you identify the pages that contribute to your bounce rate. You can use Time on Page, Scroll Depth and Bounce Rate metrics to evaluate the efficiency of every page. For more advanced insights, use heat maps or usability tests with eye tracking.

 

Use consistent language and brand voice

How would you like to sound: friendly or straightforward? Informative or playful? There is no one-size-fits-all: you can be equally successful with Queen’s English and urban dictionary memes as long as your audience speaks the same language. If your target group is too diverse, better play it safe.

VPN service provider TunnelBear is using a friendly tone of voice and matching visuals to stand out from other, more conservative providers

Take time to define dedicated terms for every service feature and create a brand manual before moving on to copywriting. Here is how guys at Mailchimp describe their voice and done. 

If you are launching a one-of-a-kind innovative product or solution, you will have to come up with words for actions that haven’t existed before (think of googling, photoshopping or skyping). Create an internal glossary for the team and explain the terms to your users via FAQ or pop-up notifications to ensure you all are on the same page.

What else you can do:

  • If you write in English, choose between British and American version and stick to respective spelling
  • Be consistent in the languages with two different words for formal and informal “you”
  • Align the typography, punctuation and upper & lower case letter across all the interface texts
  • There are many synonyms for positive and negative actions: confirm, approve, agree versus cancel, decline or reject. Make sure all your action buttons have consistent labels. 
  • Choose active over passive and actionable over vague.

Dive into local cultures

Culture-specific content and references work magic if your market is homogenous. In other cases, you either need to use local references for every user group or replace them with universally accepted examples.  

If you write copies for diverse markets, find out how local citizens call specific things and which habits and prejudices might impact their interaction with your product. 

When Bachoo Design Studio worked on Airfox, a financial application targeting Brazilian citizens with lower-middle to low income, we needed to identify local transaction language, habits and instruments. Our designers worked closely with the local UX research team from Brazil that was in touch with the end users.

In the Airfox app interface, we left only the most critical information and eliminated all the other numbers. Users see how many installments they need to pay, what is the amount of every fare and when it is due

“In the Airfox app interface, we left only the most critical information and eliminated all the other numbers. Users see how many installments they need to pay, what is the amount of every fare and when it is due”.

Yulia Snitko
Head of Design

Respect every user

Communicate carefully around these sensitive topics:

  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Gender self-identification
  • Income
  • Education level

Show your attitude in details: use simple English if your website or app does not offer separate language versions, choose open fields over predefined drop-downs in the forms that require personal data, create an accessible version of your product and give preference to neutral third person pronouns (they rather than he/she). Here are a few more great tips from Slack.

Show what you expect

When you need users to fill in the template or application form in a particular format, inspire them with a good example: suggest a creative name and indicate the valid date format, whether it is YY/MM/DD or the other way round.

If they still make an error in the data input, highlight the section in question, explain what exactly went wrong and give an example of a correct answer. 

Mailchimp is using actual questions that sound more natural than classic “Your organization” and “Your website” fields. Typeform starts off with an informal greeting and shows fictional character’s name as a sample email address

“Mailchimp is using actual questions that sound more natural than classic “Your organization” and “Your website” fields. Typeform starts off with an informal greeting and shows a fictional character’s name as a sample email address”.

Vladyslav Orlov
Art Director

Be predictable

The users should know exactly where they land after clicking any of your website or app buttons. Will they have a chance to review their order once again? How will their data be used?  “Click here” does not explain the action that follows. “Click to pay now” is more straightforward.

Build multi-level structures

If your copy targets both advanced users and newbies, work with focus groups representing every customer segment. Create multilevel information blocks with prominent hints and subtle second-level pop-ups that only appear on demand. If your system is extremely complex, consider creating a step-by-step self-learning tutorial.

And please stay away from these

 

Generic placeholders

Forgotten “Lorem ipsums” and generic texts which were meant to be a placeholder yet stayed for good make your product look unkempt and less credible. 

 

Trick to subscribe

Some websites use deceptive wording to make users subscribe to their newsletters or share their data unwillingly. That is not how you get a loyal customer base.

 

Pressuring into decision

You may indicate that your offer is time limited, but don’t overpressure users with endless pop-ups, flashing letters or text manipulation. Also don’t make your “unsubscribe” or “not now” buttons hidden or hardly accessible. 

 

Pressuring into decision

You may indicate that your offer is time limited, but don’t overpressure users with endless pop-ups, flashing letters or text manipulation. Also don’t make your “unsubscribe” or “not now” buttons hidden or hardly accessible.