Your Users Need Closure: A UX Writing Mini Case Study

What do your exes, favorite Netflix show, and better UX have in common?

Closure. All of them need proper closure.

In 8 Rules to Design Better Interfaces, computer scientist Ben Shneiderman writes:

“Sequences of actions should be organized into groups with a beginning, middle, and end. Informative feedback at the completion of a group of actions gives users the satisfaction of accomplishment, a sense of relief, a signal to drop contingency plans from their minds, and an indicator to prepare for the next group of actions.

For example, e-commerce websites move users from selecting products to the checkout, ending with a clear confirmation page that completes the transaction.”

Lately, I’ve been doing some research on HMO providers in the country and I came across Maxicare’s website.

The website copy and user flow were both okay (from my perspective as the user, I don’t know with other types of users) but not really great. 

In fact, there was a little cognitive friction while I was filling out an application form for one of their plans. I almost called it quits prematurely because I had more questions about the package I chose, and I thought I need to do more research.

However, I decided to stick around and be more patient in filling out the form. cue in some Zen music…

After all the confusion and countless furrowed brows (hello forehead wrinkles!) while filling out the form, I eventually made it to the end.

                    Go ahead, click to enlarge image. Alma Moreno is my alter ego.

Whew! Finally, the sense of closure that I’ve been waiting for. Yet why do I still feel iffy and uncertain about it?

My initial thoughts after reading the page copy were:

a. Oh, so that was it?
b. What do you mean “check your email regularly”? What if user A’s version of “check your email regularly” is checking it 3x a day? What if user B’s version of “check your email regularly” is plowing through her inbox once a week?

Good UX Writing: Simple, Straightforward, and Human

For UX consultant Mario Quintana, well-designed forms are scannable, conversational, provides closure, and gives certainty.

With these in mind, I’m putting my UX writing chops to the test by helping improve Maxicare’s form completion copy.

Here’s my version:

                                               Go ahead, click to enlarge image.

Ultimately, performing more user research such as usability tests, contextual inquiries, and content testing can further help us find the right words and phrases in designing the application form.

As UX writer John Saito of Dropbox says — keep it simple, straightforward, and human. It doesn’t have to be catchy or clever (this is common practice in marketing, my heart breaks into a million pieces whenever someone says “just write something catchy!” ), but bonus points to you if you can make it simple, human, and clever at the same time.

Designing Meaningful Products and Services Using the Behavior-First-Design-Later Approach

 

Scrimp on user research now, pay a high price later.

Do you have a startup idea that you’ve been meaning to develop or thinking about adding a new type of service to implement?

If you’ve been doing the conventional way of developing new products and services, chances are you’re following this format:

  1. You make prototypes of your idea or create a blueprint of your supposedly new type of service.
  2. If you’re lucky and you have sufficient funds, you assemble your team of developers and creatives to help you make your idea into a tangible product or service.
  3. When your product or service blueprint is done and ready to implement, you cross your fingers and do every new marketing trick you’ve read about online to help spread the word about your new offering.

With this approach, you will likely end up with the following scenarios:

    • If your marketing team did a great job, you’ll end up luring new customers but it turns out that there’s nothing valuable or innovative about your new offerings. In the end, you end up losing these new customers.
    • No one understands your new products or services because you don’t know your prospects enough. You end up blaming the marketing or advertising team for doing a lousy job.
    • After noticing a lackluster response to your new product or service, you decided to do some market research to help you “market” to your prospects the right way. Your market research team gathers demographics data such as age, gender, location, etc.

Fun fact: All three scenarios are far from giving you lasting success when creating new products or services. In this approach, you’re putting user behavior as an afterthought instead of considering it front and center.

For instance, a local bank advertised that setting up a new bank account with them is super easy. I can even do it online! However, it turns out that when I (as a prospect) tried to sign up online for a new account using my mobile phone, their mobile website ended up telling me that I need to use Internet Explorer on desktop mode. I left their mobile site feeling that they’ve let me down. I decided to go for another bank instead.

Falling Short on UX Research

Although it looks like they’ve done their market research (one of their ads mentioned that this type of savings account is ideal for freelancers like me because linking my PayPal account is quick and easy), the bank fell short in terms of user research.

If they’ve done user research, they would have realized that their target prospects are more likely to use their smartphones or a different browser when signing up for an account online. Furthermore, they would have found out specific nuances and quirks in their prospect’s behavior when signing up for a new savings account.

When done right, user research can help create long-term success when introducing new products or adding more services.

Instead of following the traditional design-first-behavior-later model, how about giving the reverse a try?

The Behavior-First-Design-Later Model

Image courstesy of The Membership Puzzle Project

This model is the core of human-centered design. The team behind the Membership Puzzle Project calls it “behavior first, rules second” philosophy.

Many brands, companies, and organizations market themselves as purveyors and advocates of creating wonderful, meaningful (and who would even forget “delightful!”) user experiences these days. In reality, they don’t even prioritize hiring UX researchers and product designers in their teams. They put a lot of effort hiring programmers, visual designers, and marketers but the UX team takes the backseat.

In the behavior first, design later model, the bank would have done the following:

  1. Assemble a UX team composed of researchers, designers, and content strategists (or a UX writer). In some cases, a designer or writer can be a researcher at the same time or vice versa. It’s extremely rare to find one person who can do all of these aka the UX unicorn.
  2. The team will meet with stakeholders including teams from marketing, sales, and customer support to figure out the organization’s business goals or the current demand from existing customers. If it’s a new company, the UX team will conduct user research to validate your product or service idea.
  3. While doing UX research, the team will look for in-depth answers to the following questions (by the Membership Puzzle team):
  • Who are we designing for?
  • What do people what?
  • Can we actually make what they want?

Once you have the research findings laid out, you can proceed to the first step of the traditional model mentioned earlier: you make prototypes of your idea or create a blueprint of your supposedly new type of service.

Afterward, you can perform usability tests, reiterate when needed, and release your product or service into the wild. Rinse and repeat.

Besides increasing the likelihood of successful products and services, the behavior first, design later model can also potentially save you precious time and funds in the long run. Scrimp on user research now, pay a high price later.

Instead of offering a solution without knowing the specifics of the problem, the behavior-first-design-later model allows you and your team to design well-thought-out products and services that your users and customers actually need.

UX Research: 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 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.