To be there as little as possible

Yesterday, I came across this gem by design researcher and strategist Audrey Crane on the qualities of a good UX research moderator and its similarities to a crystal goblet.

What struck me the most about this short article is Audrey’s analogy. Here’s my favorite part: 

As a researcher, I believe my job is to be a crystal goblet: to be there as little as possible. To make space for the research participant to fill. To, “reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain…”, indeed to be, “worthy to hold the vintage of the human mind.

3 Things that Copywriters & UX Writers Do Besides Writing

A new acquaintance asked me recently if I’m one of those writers who is a perpetual insomniac, scribbles poems at the back of receipts, and lives on copious amounts of alcohol so I can write drunk, edit sober. Plus, do I deliberately seek heartbreaks and drama in real life so I can have the best material ever for the next Dear John?

I’ve probably done one of those things in the past. But for now, I told her that I use words not as an excuse to guzzle on alcohol, but for nobler (hopefully) and practical (there are bills to pay of course!) reasons.

As a copywriter, I persuade people to take action. This could mean signing up for an email list or clicking the Order Now button.

On the other hand, I help people complete a specific task with ease (minus the “wtf is this app about?!” moments) within an app or website as a UX writer.

What do they have in common?

Endless curiosity about human behavior.

Apart from figuring out the right words to say (or write), here are three things copywriters & UX writers like me do on a regular basis as a student of human behavior:

1. I research (or stalk people) until I get to the bottom of things.

There are days when I don’t write a single word but I’m still doing my job. Instead of writing, I wear my Sherlock Holmes’ hat (with or without Dr. Watson!) and get as many insights as I can about the people I’m writing for. This will also help me put myself in the place of the people I’m writing for and anticipate their concerns.

Let’s say that I’m writing for an audience of small business owners. For research, I will probably visit the Reddit sub for small businesses and try to understand the pain points and common concerns of redditors in the sub.

Besides knowing what my copy or content should be talking about, it’s also a great way to understand the “language” as well as context and nuances of the problems that they’re trying to solve. By doing so, I can create copy that will be more relatable and resonating with them.

2. I find ways (might include “sleeping on it”) to keep my words simple, concise, and useful.

When I started writing essays in elementary, I’ve always thought that the more “big words” I have in my composition, the more I will impress my teachers and classmates.

Decades later, I eventually learned that these big words have no room in copywriting and UX writing.

While there might be exceptions to the rule, using plain and concise language is 10 times better than using empty, big words and phrases that will only confuse the heck out of your readers or users.

Instead of writing “in the event that”, how about writing “if” or “when”?

Instead of using “nominate your password online”, how about writing “create your password online”? Who am I nominating?



The more concise your copy or instructions, the more you can get your reader’s attention or help them complete their task as soon as possible.

As a copywriter and UX writer, this means going over my draft several times. One of my favorite things to do when reviewing my drafts is to “sleep on it” and read it again the next day. Sometimes, you have to test your copy with the product/ marketing team, and reiterate as indicated in your test findings.

3. I create scenarios in my head and transform them into compelling stories.

Being clear and concise doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to write dry, boring interface instructions or create lackluster email copy. After all, the best way to get your message across is by using anecdotes and telling stories. It’s no secret that the best way to a human’s brain, heart, and gut is through stories than plain facts and figures.

When writing for marketing and UX teams, I make it a point to find a balance between clear, concise writing and writing with style and tone that is unique to the brand. This is what style guides are for. I love working with brands who have style guides already in place, or clients who are interested in working with me to create their own. Shopify’s product content style guide is one of my favorites.

How do I exercise my storytelling skills?

Reading and exploring various genres tend to work for me. When I’m reading a book that is completely unrelated to a project that I’m working on, I still consider it as part of my writing job.

In hindsight, it exposes me to different forms of storytelling and helps me look at a project or writing task from a different angle. Listening to other people tell their stories is also good practice.

Binging on Alcohol Can Be Helpful Too

For me, the best part about writing for the web or other digital interfaces is how I almost always learn new, interesting insights about humans and the world every day. Not to mention that stories have the power to connect people from various backgrounds. For a brief moment, someone from Asia will recognize the same feeling, sentiment, or idea in a story or essay from someone living in the Antarctic.

There’s also the occasional alcohol binging part so I can “write drunk, edit sober” and fit myself into one of those writer stereotypes. Heh.

Just a Quick List of My Favorite Podcasts in 2017

While listening to Headspace Radio’s newest podcast episode on relationships this morning,  I had a couple of aha moments with my own relationships (not just the romantic kind but with friends and family too). Consequently, I also realized that I had the same aha moments while listening to a number of podcasts the entire year.

Listening to podcasts has made a significant difference in how I work, interact with people, and do certain things. Tuning in to other people’s conversations and thoughts is like having a mentor, friend, and a therapist at once.

Like books, podcasts can also influence the way you think, feel, and react. If you’ve been looking for good podcasts to listen to while stuck in traffic, washing the dishes, or exercising, here’s a quick list of podcasts that I regularly listened to for the past year.

It’s probably too hyperbolic if I say that they’ve helped me grow as a person this year but think of podcasts as food for thought. You’re not going to notice its visible impact on your health and well-being right away but it helps in the long run. I hope that you’ll find something of value from these podcasts too.

Sunday Dispatches with Paul Jarvis
Each episode is super short and Paul simply talks about his thoughts on creativity, freelancing, and building valuable client relationships.
Favorite episode: Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

The Tim Ferris Show
I admit that I’m not a huge Tim Ferriss fan when his books were just gaining traction but I noticed recently that Tim has improved greatly in how he does interviews.  He knows how (and when) to ask the right questions.
Favorite episode: Managing Procrastination Predicting the Future with illustrator Tim Urban
Runner-up favorite: Intimacy, Emotional Baggage, Relationship Longevity with psychotherapist Esther Perel

Pardon My French with Garance Dore
I’ve been a fan of Garance’s style and illustrations when she was just starting out as a style and fashion blogger (even before her breakup with Mr. The Sartorialist!). When she announced that she was doing a podcast this year, I knew I had to subscribe to it right away!
Favorite episode: Mating in Captivity with Esther Perel (Isn’t it obvious now that I’m turning into an Esther Perel minion?)

Hot Copy Podcast
Binge-listen to this podcast if you want to learn about copywriting for the web. It’s also a bit weird that I like listening to this specific podcast while exercising.
Favorite episode: Why your sign off process is SO important

The Copywriter Club Podcast
This podcast for copywriters is like the American version of Hot Copy Podcast (which is hosted by two Australian copywriters). You don’t have to choose between the two because their podcasting styles are different and both offer a lot of value.
Favorite episode: Interview with conversion copywriter Joanna Wiebe

99 Percent Invisible
Subscribe to this podcast if you’re curious about design and culture. Plus, Roman Mars’ voice is oh-so-sexy!
Favorite episode: The Trend Forecast

The Futur
Chris Do is a visual designer and helps creatives build their own businesses by providing valuable insights, tips, and hacks. I may not be a visual designer but I’ve learned a lot from this podcast, particularly when it comes to building client relationships.
Favorite episode: Feeling Overwhelmed-Information Overload ( I originally watched this interview on YouTube)

Design Matters with Debbie Millman
If I can choose one mentor from today’s thought leaders and influencers, I’d probably choose Debbie Millman. There’s just something about the way she makes people feel at ease during interviews.
Favorite episode: Interview with Brene Brown on belongingness, courage, and vulnerability.

How I Built This with Guy Raz
As written in their NPR link, this podcast is about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.
Favorite Episode: Interview with Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard

This is Product Management by Mike Fishbein
I’m not a product manager but most of the podcast episodes are focused towards topics that I usually gravitate to like user research and technology.
Favorite Episode: Behavioral Psychology is Product Management

True North Podcast
This podcast uncovers stories that intersect between design and innovation.
Favorite Episode: Behind Facebook’s Logo

Personality Hacker Podcast
This is a decent podcast (the only one I can find) about personality types. I like how they tackle personality types based on Jung’s cognitive functions rather than the usual four letters on the MBTI.
Favorite Episode: Your Personality 3-Year-Old Inferior Cognitive Function

Hurry Slowly
I just discovered this podcast on what it means to pace yourself while living in this tech-driven era and I’m hooked!
Favorite Episode: Craig Mod I Want My Attention Back

Freakonomics Radio
This is a good podcast for anyone who wants to know “the hidden side of everything”.
Favorite Episode: The 3-part series on Bad Medicine

You Are Not So Smart
If you like to challenge your own assumptions on almost everything out there, this podcast is for you.
Favorite Episode: Sleep Deprivation and Bias

Other favorites that I’ve been listening to for the longest time (and not just in 2017):

Do you have any recommendations? Share in the comments below or if you want to carry on with your air of mystery, send smoke signals instead. 🙂

Just Another UX Side Project

Early this year, I said yes when a friend asked me to join their UX side project team.  It took us around six months to wrap up the whole thing — from the discovery phase to testing our prototype, so we named our team Unom, which means “six” in our native dialect.

Why six months? All three of us were busy with our put-food-on-the-table jobs. Excuses, right?

For this side project, my responsibilities revolved around user research, creating the testing plan, and taking care of the microcopy.

If you’re curious ( I know you are!) how it went, take a ten-minute break and give the case study a quick read: A UX Case Study: Rose Pharmacy Customer Queue Management System. 

On Human-Centered Technology and Pragmatic Idealism

Yesterday, a friend asked me about UX and why do I care so much about it.

As I’ve described before in a contest entry about valuable design outcomes,  I would like to believe that advocating for UX is an exercise of pragmatic idealism. 

In recent years, I realized that I can’t be one of those people who can “change the world” by being an outspoken activist or by building a non-profit organization to promote a certain cause. We seek solutions to the world’s biggest problems, you see, only to find out that they’re merely band-aids.

After taking stock of what I can and can’t do, it dawned on me that in order for me to help change the world (so idealistic, yes?) using my strengths,  I would have to be more realistic. Employing pragmatic tools and methodologies is a good start.

This is where advocating for user-centered technology comes in.

Technology doesn’t have to make us “less human”. The supposedly cold, soulless AIs and bots are already here, but I’m still hopeful that we can create technologies that will not take  “humanity” out of us.

Man and Machine Working Together

There’s a lot of talk about the impending man vs. machine doom, but what if we aim for man and machine working together?

The more we advocate for user-centered tech through user research, the more it will help us understand each other. Understanding begets empathy. Empathy begets kindness.

When you put technology out there with empathy as one of its cornerstones,  the chances are high that people will treat their fellow humans the same way.

For instance, when you’re effortlessly booking a ride home from a tired day at work via a ride-hailing app, you’re less likely to get grumpy by the time you get home. This might mean that you’re less likely to snap back at your partner who didn’t even bother to cook dinner. In short, you’re going to be more patient and kinder.

Imagine if you were having issues using the ride hailing app. You’re probably going to project your anger and frustration to your clueless partner. And the cycle of hatred and indifference begins.

It sounds tad simplistic but I’m banking for now on the school of thought that before we seek solutions to the world’s biggest problems like terrorism, world hunger, corruption etc, why don’t we start with the idea of  treating each other with compassion, kindness, and openness?

Technology is a pragmatic tool that can help us accomplish this idealistic goal, don’t you think?