Words = Code = Design

are . What do I mean by this? Let’s start from the beginning…

A few days ago, I read on the Gordon Macrae’s newsletter something that I really liked:

Words = Code = Design.

When talking about writing for digital media, most people link the idea of writing to marketing and SEO. Even when talking about UX writing in particular, many people still think about marketing. However, UX writing is much more related to code and design than to marketing.

Macrae explains that it takes as long to write one good clean line of language as it does to write a good line of code or a high-fidelity mock-up. Anyone can write, but writing in a clear, concise, and useful manner is another story.

A good UX writer is not someone who can write 100 words per minute, is someone capable of expressing what has to be said in the simplest and most comfortable way for the user of the website or app. This is not an easy task, especially when the interface’s space and the user’s attention span are limited.

Eloquent JavaScript (1st edition, cover design: Your Neighbours), Marijn Haverbeke.

This morning, reading the book Eloquent JavaScript — I’m studying front-end development, but that’s a story for another time — , I read another related idea that I really liked:

The art of programming is the skill of controlling complexity.

The author, Marijn Haverbeke, is talking about computer programming. However, this same sentence could be applied to UX writing.

The art of writing texts for interfaces is the art of controlling complexity.

The three most repeated terms when speaking of UX writing are: “clear”, “concise”, and “useful”. To be clear, concise, and useful, you have to control the complexity and transform it into simplicity.

Our language, the words with which we express ourselves, that we use in our interfaces, is a code. Programming codes, such as JavaScript, are languages.

UX writing does not consist in creating sophisticated literary speeches or hot air. In UX writing, as in coding and design, everything has to be there for a reason, mean something, and facilitate the experience. If a text doesn’t add anything, delete it.

UX writing = Code = Design

Haverbeke makes another statement about programming that is also applicable to UX writing. We usually believe that codes should be based on strict rules, on “best practices” that establish how things should be done.

But beware!, advise Haverbeke, following inflexible rules is not effective. Each job is unique, and new problems require new solutions.

UX writers are developers, yes

Following an example by Haverbeke. At the birth of computing, a program to add the numbers from 1 to 10 looked something like this:

Eloquent JavaScript, Marijn Haverbeke.

This code is so abstract that it’s impossible to understand it at a glance — well, at least for most of us is just gibberish. There are many interface texts similar to this apparent nonsense, to understand them you have to be some kind of arcane magician.

The same program in JavaScript, a more modern and simple language, could be written as follows:

let total = 0, count = 1;
while (count <= 10) {
 total += count;
 count += 1;

Even if we don’t understand ​​JavaScript, here we understand some details. There are numbers, something that is counted and a total. When a complex text, like those first unintelligible numbers, is for an interface, it’s reasonable to take the trouble to rewrite it in a more understandable way.

Going one step further. A good UX writer will reduce the complexity to the minimum and end up with something more similar to this:

console.log (sum (range (1, 10)));

Here, even without knowing absolutely anything about programming, we can understand that the code adds the numbers from 1 to 10. That is exactly the same thing that a UX writer does: Expressing something in the simplest way possible.

So, in short, what’s the work of a UX writer?

Writing 100 words per minute? NO.
Creating cumbersome narratives? NO.
Presuming of literary erudition? NO.
Convincing the user to buy a product? NO.

The job of a UX writer is to control complexity, which is why it’s code and design, not copywriting.

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