Yellow Brick Words

Yellow Brick WORDS – words as steppingstones towards the perfect user experience.

More than words

Ever found yourself talking to your laptop?
Screaming at it / begging it work / thanking it for completing a task?

Of course you have, you’re human!

Communication is a human instinct; we constantly communicate with our surroundings – be it other humans, pets, plants… even tech devices.

But this human-digital communication goas beyond verbal.

In his book “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop”, Prof. Clifford Nass describes how humans show emotions towards computers and machines. In his many years of research, Nass found that humans show politeness and protectiveness towards tech devices, feel flattered by piece of software, and even walk the extra mile for technology that has been ‘nice’ to them; all without even realizing it!  His theory claims that our brains cannot fundamentally distinguish between interacting with people and interacting with devices.

In fact, we even expect digital devices and interfaces to behave in a human manner and communicate back with us: to listen and respond, in context, and with tact. When this expectation isn’t met, a negative (or less enjoyable) experience occurs and as we all know by now, bad user/customer experiences are translated into negative business results.

Beyond the front and back end

Most companies are trying to mitigate this issue by investing in:

1. A smart / algorithm-based backend – AI, ML, NLP, and the likes


2. A well-designed and user-friendly frontend – focusing mainly on UI and UX design

No doubt that design, functionality, and usability are all critical in shaping the user experience; however, those should be dictated by another component that is often overlooked but in fact plays a key role in meeting this inevitable human expectation for human-like interaction: UX WRITING.

UX Writing, AKA Content Design, is the part of your backend that goes way beyond your frontend as it settles the actual communication between your users and your digital interface. It turns plain technical text into a conversational one and turns digital interfaces from passively reactive to actively engaged in their communication with their users. 

It uses the right words at every possible user touchpoint, from the main message to the microcopy:

  • Menu items
  • Buttons
  • Navigation texts
  • CTAs
  • Supporting content
  • Error messages
  • Confirmation messages
  • Chatbots
  • 404 pages
  • Etc.

Traditional copywriting turns the above items into textual “road signs” that may help navigate users and keeps them on track.

UX writing, on the other hand, turns these items into “yellow bricks” with which you pave the road to user happiness and success – a road that encourages users to choose to move in one direction only – forward! Towards their (and your) goals!

Using the right words at the right time – Google’s UX Writing.

The side effects of Lorem Ipsum

But when creating digital interfaces, companies often focus on building the layout (UI and design) first and add in the details (text and content) later. This common approach of using dummy texts as place holders is also one of the most common reasons for low completion rates, navigation issues, and overall bad UX.

It’s much like designing a kitchen without taking into consideration people are going to open the cupboards, use the dishwasher and, you know, use it. It usually leads to a painful experience, not just for your users but also for you bottom line.

Designing with a dummy text – a painful experience to all.
Image source: chefmacari

It’s been said that content should precede design, but content design means looking at content as a key design component; it designs your user-interface communication and sets the tone for the graphics that are built around it.

Focused on creating conversation, the UX writer takes all possible scenarios, such as questions raised, misunderstandings, hesitations, and other human reactions into consideration and tailors a specific response for each of them. These textual “responses” might require a longer / additional / different space allocation within the UI and therefore should be leading its design and not the other way around.

Content Design – takes all possible scenarios into account
(source: Microcopy: The Complete Guide)

Every word counts

In recent years, leading companies around the world have realised the power of conversational interfaces and started allocating more resources towards Content Design and shaping user interactions. As a result, users are enjoying well-crafted, humanised, digital interactions… that is – until something goes wrong.

In most digital interfaces, once the user “said something wrong” (as in: didn’t correctly fill the field below, got to the infamous 404 page, etc.) the conversation takes a turn and the users are thrown from the yellow-brick road into a grey-dirt road, filled with coded error messages written by a backend developer.

Suddenly, they’re not in Kansas anymore.

The tone & style change, and that welcoming person they were chatting with so far (your interface) shoots robotic answers at them without noticing what they’re saying.

We’re not in Kansas anymore – inconsistency of tone & style

But users read all words, big or small. Every word on your interface is part of the user interaction with it, and every interaction is an opportunity; error messages are an opportunity to offer support, confirmation messages are an opportunity to build assurance, loading screens are an opportunity for casual engagement, and the list goes on.

Consistency is a key element in UX design, and it applies to content design as well. Align your yellow bricks and fill the gaps between them to ensure users have a smooth, bumper-free ride.

There’s no place like HOME

At the heart of user experience sits, what else – your users’ feelings.

A Mckinsey report shows 70% Of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated, and although this study refers to brick and mortar customers, its findings are relevant for the digital space as well.

Users and online customers want to feel “at home” when using your digital interface; they want things to be simple and intuitive, with a sense of familiarity and great deal of trust and certainty.

You will obviously have all kinds of users:

Some may be less savvy

Some may not be more (or less) emotional

Some might be fearful and suspicious

And some just happen to be there 

It’s on you to ensure they are all taken into account and can complete this walk on their own –  smoothly, easily and with no disruptions, getting to their destination and feeling good about it.

Maybe that’s all Dorothy was missing. A good little microcopy to go with her magic shoes saying: “Click 3 times to get back home” to save her the long journey and the shenanigans along the way.

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Lee Linden

Lee Linden

Lee spent over a decade leading some world-class brands (such as Nescafe, Purina and more). Her experience spans across B2B and B2C, corporate and startup, marketing and trade, and varies all the way from strategy to copywriting and from planning to execution.

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