Take a moment and think of your favourite website or application. It could be something mainstream, like Google or Facebook, or it might be something much more niche. It could be part of a bigger website, like a particular subreddit. Now, imagine it without any words. None whatsoever. Is it still your favourite website? Does it still add any value to you?
When we think about websites and applications, we often focus on the design and development that goes into creating them. We imagine designers sat, hunched over Photoshop or Sketch.app, agonising over every pixel and where it’s placed within the view. Is that button big enough to press? Is that blue the right blue?
Or, we imagine developers. Tapping away on their keyboard, writing some strange language that converts human thoughts and interactions into actionable actions and instructions for a computer to follow. Occasionally they’ll be tripped up by a missing semicolon or extra parentheses, but eventually they’ll build an application or website that works, and they can share with the world.
Rarely do we think about the words that go onto a website or into an application. We don’t think about those who spend their lives thinking about how people communicate verbally and how this can be used in the world of computers to ease interaction. Those who turn complex computations into words such as “Log in” or “Reset my password”. Those who scrutinise every word and every character, finding ways to say things better and help you navigate through an application more easily - with words you can quickly scan, understand, and act on.
But that’s what I do. I look at an application, and I see not only the beautiful design and the powerful code. I see the words. The verbal cues that let us know what to do and when we need to do it. The “log in” buttons. The navigation menu. The messages that tell us when something is happening, or when something has gone wrong. I see all of these, and I look at how they add, or detract, from the experience.
A well crafted error message, for example, should make it clear what has gone wrong and what steps you, as the person using the application, can do to resolve it. The options presented for you to click or tap should be obvious in their meaning. There should be no doubt or uncertainty, as you’re already annoyed enough that your favourite website or application has just thrown up an error whilst you were trying to do something.
The navigation menu should make it clear how to move around. Quickly and easily, you should be able to work out where you are and where you’re going. You shouldn’t have to decipher strange terms and random page names. It should be simple. And great words help keep it that way.
For accessibility, the interface and content with in an application should be well described and annotated, so that those with visual disabilities are able to use technologies like VoiceOver to navigate, without seeing a single part of the screen.
And for sanity’s sake, we should be consistent and correct in how things are written and presented. If you’re asking someone to “log in”, make sure the button they click says exactly that. The same with “log out” and “sign up”. If you’ve decided to use email, rather than the legacy form of “e-mail”, then make sure you’re consistent in this choice throughout.
Written in a language we use everyday, the content and copy present in a UI, or in content, is incredibly powerful. It is the difference between a great and consistent experience, and one that leaves people confused or lost.
Consider this when you use a website or an application. Consider this when you create a website or an application. Consider the implications of consistent, well written copy and content. Then, consider hiring somebody to help you write that copy. Perhaps someone like me.