Copy and design are the two key pieces of the puzzle when developing a product. As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, despite the growing buzz surrounding UX writing, many teams still let designers take the lead, with copy remaining an afterthought. But it’s time for that to change! It’s time for copy to come before—or at least at the same time as—design. User experience depends on it.
We spoke to over 100 teams at top startups and enterprise companies about their processes and where content design fits in. In this post, we outline six steps that UX writers can follow to establish and lead a more seamless UX writing workflow that puts copy at the forefront—where it belongs—and streamlines every step along the way, from conception to review to edits (and let’s be honest: there are always multiple rounds of edits to be made).
Before even considering design, outline all the essential points that need to be addressed in the specific feature or flow you’re working on: what you want the user to do, what information you need from the user, what the user needs to know, how the user feels, and so on. This gives you the chance to address all of the top questions and determine how to structure your copy, how much copy will be needed, and what it should cover. Most writers we spoke to like to do this in a Google Doc and structure it as a “word dump,” where they can freely collect, brainstorm, draft, and compile all their ideas and copy, often with some very basic directions in terms of layout and structure.
UX writers have important insights and shouldn’t feel like they’re stepping on designers’ toes. In fact, working alongside a writer can free and inspire a designer to come up with better ways to communicate messages and convey the brand. After all, beautiful design is useless on its own; the combination of the copy and the design is what makes the product functional.
Ideally, the designer will have also done some pre-design planning/exploration, such as creating wireframes and basic mock-ups, before aligning with the writer, so that both can share somewhat fleshed-out ideas, while still getting a say in defining goals and expectations and building out the look and feel of the product. Ultimately, both parties need to be on the same page, literally and figuratively, whether that means meeting and working together live or having a tandem session in the design tool.
As a UX writer, you know that your writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum—it’s part of a product or platform, an overarching brand, and even a certain market segment and industry. Therefore, consistency is especially important. Users expect to see the same terminology across your product, and for that terminology to be in alignment with what they see across other platforms and brands. They often choose your product over others because of your brand voice, and they notice when something about your voice feels off or inconsistent.
As you take the inputs you gathered from your pre-design exploration and your session with the designer and start writing, make sure to: 1) create and maintain a content style guide (check out Apple’s and Shopify’s for reference); 2) create and maintain a content design system; and 3) refer back to copy docs or mock-ups to see what language your organization has used in other products or interfaces.
As we’ve written before, it’s best to write directly in the design, such as in Figma, InVision, or Frontitude. We know that a lot of writers don’t have access to design tools, for a variety of reasons. With Frontitude, which also acts as a sandbox for copy editing, you can write in the design with full context and tangible design constraints, thus preventing a lot of back and forth with designers later on. Integrating the copy into the design may require some design adjustments and tweaks, since it’s the first time the copy meets the “mature” design. Writing copy with the full context significantly reduces the number of iterations needed to match the copy and design.
UX writers work with a variety of different people across an organization, meaning that your copy will probably have to cross a few proverbial desks before it gets the final green light. Many teams start out with an internal content critique involving several UX writers. Later on, a member of the marketing team might want to make sure that it’s on brand, while the legal team may need to check for legal/compliance issues and make sure you’re not making any promises the company can’t keep. If you’re part of a startup, the CEO or other C-level executives may even review the copy on strategic features.
When sharing your copy with different team members and stakeholders, be sure to have them review it within the design. You can manage the feedback over comments in the design or prototyping tool, or upload the designs to Frontitude and use the Shareable Links feature to share and gather feedback. We don’t recommend reviewing the copy in a Google Doc or spreadsheet because it lacks the context of the design, and at this stage, the design is crucial.
Documenting is an important part of the UX writing process, yet it often gets neglected because it can be tiring or feel like extra work. As you go through each of the steps mentioned above, jot down notes so that documentation doesn’t feel like an impossible task later on.
Your documentation for each major feature should cover two categories: 1) copy and background: that is, the copy and tone you’re using, as well as any background on the user journey and the user’s mindset at each stage for context; and 2) final decisions: that is, any feedback that was provided and decisions that were made based on that feedback.
Many teams we spoke to use copy docs or a Confluence workspace for this; as these documents are static, they have to proactively stay on top of updating them. If this is your case, set aside specific times for updating your documentation (including background and feedback), so it doesn’t become outdated.
As UX writing gains a foothold in organizations, it’s becoming increasingly important for UX writers to not only take ownership over their copy but also carve out specific workflows that streamline processes and put copy at the center. Have thoughts on how UX writing should be integrated into the product development process? We’d love to hear them!
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