This week’s guest author is Relly Annett-Baker, who writes some of the best, most interesting web copy around for clients of all sizes. She resides in Wokingham, UK.
Words are the soul of user experience. More than any other design element, words communicate the bulk of the messages we communicate to others. Whether they are spoken or written, there’s a fine line between lazily sending generic, expected messages and taking a few minutes to say something truly special. Consider the following:
Take holiday greeting cards. There is nothing nicer than a pretty card with some well-chosen handwritten words of greeting, a line or two of news and a personal inquiry with a suggestion to meet up soon. They are also pretty rare. People find it easier to scribble a generic festive greeting or insert a round robin letter, knowing that one of the recipients will find the information interesting.
I understand why. As a mother of two small kids I know that the month up to Christmas can be a blur of Santa visits, school parties, present wrapping and food shopping. I rarely manage to write the meaningful messages I wish to on cards; my gift tags simply say ‘To: you, From: me’. It’s only one day a year. They will know how we feel about them really.
Take gift wrapping. There is nothing nicer than an inexpensive in-store service to help you wrap those odd-shaped presents you just bought for family and friends, with a selection of wrapping materials, paper and ribbons and where the wrapping staff greet you personally when you come back and show you the neat work they have put in and the labels they have attached to remind you which gift is which. They are also pretty rare. The stores find it easier to use a generic paper design, generic greetings, and employ teenagers for minimum wage who have targets to meet per hour.
I understand why. I’m just the customer. Why would I care about the quality of the materials or the standard of the wrapping or the message this is sending? This isn’t the gift proper. This is just the exchange of money for a service. I’ve already had the shopping experience. This won’t affect the way I feel about them really.
Take web forms. There is nothing nicer than a form that greets you personally and recognises your efforts to complete it and move on, and that cuts out any of the unnecessary extraneous information that no-one but the marketing team find useful. They are also pretty rare. The web team find it easier to simply use a cookie-cutter form or not push back on the marketing and communications people (or their clients) as to why each of these field entries are necessary.
I understand why. After all, the rush up to launch can be a blur of client visits, design testing, wrangling content from providers, testing databases. Web teams rarely allocate time and effort to add useful snippets to make the form easy to use, to verify each entry, to write compelling copy and make something as mundane as the checkout part of an enjoyable experience. This isn’t the website proper. It’s just one interaction. This is just the exchange of money and information. It’s the boring bit. Users will know how we feel about them really.
Or will they? Probably not. So the next time you’re crafting messages you truly care about (or ought to), think about taking an extra 10 minutes to push through and say something special. Don’t take the easy way out. The right words make the difference between just another occurrence and having a great experience.