Butchering vs Garnishing

The limited space on a user interface doesn’t exactly leave much room for any extra adverbs.

Even though ‘cutting copy’ had always been a part of my process, as a copywriter I’d still try to get to the smartest or wittiest way to say something. That’s because the whole aim of advertising copy is to promote the product, and make it seem more appealing, whereas UX copy tries to make the product inherently more useful.

To really butcher copy, you need to keep chopping away and discard the unusable bits until you end up with a practical, actionable (consumable?) piece of content. And hold the garnish.

What’s changed in my practice is now, instead of asking myself if people will get my copy, I ask whether they can use it. Clarity over cleverness. Short over good. Truth over everything.

Showing vs Revealing

This is probably my favourite thing that’s changed since switching roles.

I was used to working with an art partner, in our own little space, crafting our ideas until stupid-hour, or until we were stoked. We’d know the Creative Director is stoked, too, if we heard the sweet sound of approval after a review. We’d know the client is stoked, because of the applause in the pitch room. But we’d still have no idea how the public would react to The Big Reveal. That kind of pressure is scary.

In UX writing, on the other hand, we show our work to the-people-who-are-going-to-use-our-products all. the. time. We try to test as soon and as often as possible. If I’m unsure whether people find my copy clear and actionable, I can just ask ’em. It’s great! Then I take their feedback, iterate, rinse, and repeat.

Even after release, we can still A/B test our copy to see if we can tweak or improve it for even better conversion. You can’t exactly do that with a billboard.

Don’t get me wrong. Few things beat the rush of launching a brilliant ad campaign. But knowing that your copy actually helps people to get shit done every day, comes pretty close.

Direct vs Angled

When writing copy for ads, I would put a lot of thought and time into trying to “find an angle” or “nail an insight” in order to relate to the reader, to find that one thing that’s going to make them feel all the feels for our product.

Now, I spend the same amount of effort trying to remove any ambiguity from my copy, and making it as clear and direct as possible. It’s less about making the reader feel something, and more about understanding what they might be feeling already. It’s about meeting the user exactly where they are, and guiding them from there with short, helpful copy.

The best advertising copy is that humdinger of a line that everyone remembers, and the best UX copy is the copy that doesn’t even get noticed. Both require a crazy level of copy-mastery to accomplish.

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