John Zeratsky, design partner at Google Ventures, posted an article about writing good copy for user interfaces back in 2014, which I revisit from time to time, because the advice is good.
Zeratsky sets out five main principles for user interface copy:
- Clarity is king
- Personality doesn’t matter as much as you think
- Just tell me
- By the way, people do read
- Writing is part of the design process
Here’s a an extract from the third point: Just tell me:
Remember the Seinfeld episode where Kramer impersonates the Moviefone guy? After realizing he cannot differentiate a touch tone “2” from a “3” from a “4” (and so on), Kramer resorts to asking: Why don’t you just tell me what movie you want to see?
The best approach to interface copywriting is usually to just tell your users what you want them to know. I’ve seen too many marketing websites with headlines promising “a better way,” “the best way,” or “a new way” to do something, without actually describing what it is.
In many interfaces, a simple label can really aid understanding. I was working with a company recently whose product features a list of updates from companies you’re following. But the list was not labeled, and it wasn’t clear what it was. Adding a headline — “Updates from companies you follow” — made it instantly clear.
This principle can be very helpful in multi-page wizards (where users have to enter some information and click from page to page). Instead of a simple “Next” button, try telling the user what will happen: “[Save and continue »] Next, we’ll ask for some personal information.”