UI content strings contain instructions or information that help users navigate and use the application or website. Without UI content, users wouldn’t know how to navigate a digital interface. They wouldn’t know, for example, whether pressing a button submits a form or erases it completely—and that’s a distinction nobody wants to mix up.
Is copy considered UI or UX?
Trick question! Copy plays a role in both the user interface (UI) and the user experience (UX). The actual text that is displayed on the screen is technically part of the interface. However, it reflects and drives the user experience, providing information and instructions—essentially making it possible to have a user experience at all.
Who is responsible for writing UI content strings?
Ideally, UI content strings are written by content designers or UX writers (“UI writers” has never really caught on as a term, probably because it shrinks down the scope of the job, without considering all the work that goes on behind the scenes before the UI copy is actually crafted). Of course, not all companies have content designers or UX writers on staff yet, so designers, product managers, or marketers end up taking on the job.
How do you write UI content?
Creating UI content isn’t just about throwing some words into a design and calling it a day. UI content brings together a profound understanding of several different elements before you even write a single word:
- Target audience – Who are you writing for? What types of people are you targeting? What pain points are you aiming to solve for them? Just as with any other type of content or copy, you need to tailor it to the audience that will be reading or experiencing it. Gen Z and baby boomers probably don’t want to be spoken to in the same way, just as there are going to be differences between social media marketers and lawyers.
- Brand voice, personality, and goals – Who are you writing as? In other words, what do you represent and stand for? What is the brand’s vision, mission, and key messages? This will all affect what type of copy you choose to put in your products.
- The UX and the UI – What is the user journey? What is the format of the design? The UI content strings you create have to fit into both of those. The text has to make sense of the flow while working together with the design.
A clear understanding of those three categories will help you lay the foundation for your UI content.
Then, once you’ve started writing, you’re going to want these three characteristics to be your “North Star”:
- Clarity – Is your content clear to the user? Does it make sense? Does it guide them and give them the instructions they need? Does it take into consideration the user journey and the design? Are you saying everything you need to say?
- Conciseness – Is the text string short and to the point? Are you saying everything you need to say without extra fluff? Can you reword it to shorten it? Are there filler words you can swap out (for example, “to” instead of “in order to”) or shorter, simpler synonyms you can choose (such as “use” rather than “utilize”)?
- Consistency – Are you sticking with the same terminology, so users always know what a particular category or term means, or changing it up, which can cause them to hunt around for what they’re looking for and possibly become frustrated? Are you using a consistent style for certain types of UI content, such as error messages or menu items?
Why do UI content strings matter?
As we mentioned earlier, UI content strings are essential for communicating to a user what the different parts of the interface do and how they can interact with them. Without these strings, digital interfaces would just have backgrounds, buttons, fields, toggles, colors, padding, and so on… but no text. Users would have no idea what to enter (First name or credit card number?), which option to choose, and what the consequences of each choice are. If something went wrong, they wouldn’t necessarily know it, or they wouldn’t know what happened and how to fix it or move forward.
Challenges writers face when writing UI text strings
Sure, UI strings are usually short, but that doesn’t mean writing them is a walk in the park. There are lots of factors that can make it challenging to write even the shortest of strings. (Believe it or not, sometimes it can take hours to write just one two-word button!)
Some of these challenges are:
- Not having full context
Unfortunately when UI content is treated purely as strings that need to be filled in, the context risks being forgotten. Writers may not get all the background they need about the users and the product, or they may not have access to the wireframes and designs, which are essential for understanding the product, flow, and user experience.
- Lack of a brand voice or style guide
A brand voice guide or style guide sets the strategy for a product’s copy. Without this type of guide, writers won’t have a framework by which to work, and the UI content strings are more likely to be inconsistent, inaccurate, and not in the right voice and tone.
- Length and format constraints
Writing UI content involves working with limited space. Writers often have to get creative to make their desired messages fit into the space they have. They may also have to think outside of the box and not only shorten what they’ve written but also come up with a different format for it, such as splitting it up into a few different sections or screens or moving secondary information to a tooltip.
- Localization considerations
If a product targets audiences in different countries, it will often go through localization. Often, localization is thought of as just translating existing UI strings, but successful localization involves much more than that. Writers who know that their products will be localized need to keep this in mind when they’re writing the source-language UI content. This may mean thinking about whether the formats and lengths they’ve used will continue to work when localized and jotting down notes that can help translators understand and maintain the voice, tone, and meaning later on when they’re working on their own, localized versions of the UI strings.