Blurred Lines: How the Roles of Copywriting and UX Writing Are Changing

rocketair product design team blog author fuel for thought
RocketAir Crew
August 13, 2019
copywriting and ux copywriting RocketAir blog

UX and marketing copywriting should work in tandem to enhance digital products and improve their user experience

Copywriting, Writing or Both?

In the traditional structure of a design firm, copywriters have usually been someone on the marketing or advertising team tasked with writing promotional copy for the product once the product design has been completed. Hence, copywriters had never been included in the product design process because there was a whole chicken-and-egg thing going on, except in this case there was no question about which came first.

“Traditionally, how things have typically progressed is that the design team would design a product and send it over to the development team who would then build it,” as Laurah Mwirichia, content strategist and UX writer at Aircall explains for Prototypr.io. “Finally, this product would arrive to the marketing/advertising team who would then have to use words (copy) to advocate the product and brand to customers.” 

But many big companies – from Google to Amazon to PayPal and Airbnb – have been rethinking what copy means within the context of their products’ overall design.

“The fundamental principles of design — structure, simplicity, clarity, visibility, and feedback- all play a huge role in how we build designs, iterate on them, conduct product research, do testing, and all other aspects of UX design,” Mwirichia adds. “So why is it that copy is not a priority earlier in the project sequence?”

Multiple Hats

One reason that companies are starting to rethink how copy fits into product design is because the role of the people who create the copy is starting to change. Mwirichia notes that while “UX Writer” has become an established role within the industry, it is actually a newish term in the design field that’s only become prevalent in the past few years.

It can get a bit confusing trying to differentiate between the traditional roles of a copywriter and a UX writer, but Anastasiia Marushevska, head of communications at Django Stars, has a good breakdown of how the responsibilities between the two differ: Broadly speaking, copywriters are more “sales-oriented,” work with the marketing team, and “use sexy words to attract customers.” On the other hand, UX writers are “product-oriented,” work with the design team, and “use simple words to explain things,” according to Marushevska.

To put it another way: Copywriters promote the product, while UX writers tell you how the product works. However, freelance designer Micah Bowers points out that these roles aren’t always mutually exclusive.

“Ideally, UX writers would write UX copy and marketers would write marketing microcopy, but a clear division of duties between the two roles isn’t always possible in the real world,” Bowers explains. “UX writers, especially freelancers and those working on small teams, are often responsible for writing every instance of a product’s interface copy.”

While Bowers notes that it’s often UX writers on small teams who get tasked with handling all the copy for a firm’s product – regardless if it’s UX microcopy or marketing microcopy – you can also see a shift in responsibilities happening even at the biggest companies in the world. Just check out a recent job posting for a UX writer from Google, which reads in part (boldfaced ours):

You work with people in a variety of UX design-related jobs including researchers, product managers, engineers, marketing and customer operations. Collaborating with each, you strive to establish cohesive language and a unified voice across products and platforms. You regularly use empathy, logic and hard data to inform content choices, and are an expert in your product. You provide content recommendations that include the right words and sometimes complementary data and images.

A UX writer for Google is going to wear multiple hats, not only being “an advocate for Google design, working to shape product experiences by creating useful, meaningful text that helps users complete the task at hand,” but also crafting copy for marketing and customer operations as well.

“Regardless of who writes what, UX copy and marketing microcopy should work in tandem to enhance digital products and improve their UX,” Bowers says. “In many cases, the two exist side by side or even merge.”

Get to the Point

Bowers prefers the umbrella term “UX copy” to cover both UX writing and copywriting, especially since the same person will often be doing both. But regardless of how your firm organizes its content roles – whether you keep UX writing and copywriting separate or not – industry experts generally agree on certain guidelines to sharpen your copy.

Here are 4 of those expert tips that we’ve pulled from various industry thought leaders:

Tip #1 Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Remember the question Aircall’s Laurah Mwirichia asked about where copy fits into the design process: “Why is it that copy is not a priority earlier in the project sequence?” Her point is that since the goal for designers is to make your products “user friendly” and “intuitive” then copy needs to be included much earlier in your product design operation. After all, it’s the microcopy that will make the product intuitive, telling the user what to click, how to navigate the site and where to find whatever they’re looking to find. In fact, Mwirichia believes that designers should get rid of Lorem Ipsum all together – and she’s not alone in this thinking.

Tip #2 We’re Speaking to You

Just because it’s impossible to know every person that uses your product, doesn’t mean you can’t make your product feel personalized to each individual who uses it. That’s why the copy for your product – whether it’s UX microcopy or marketing copywriting – is much more effective by addressing your user as you. “The word ‘you’ automatically catches your attention, but even more importantly, it establishes a relationship between you and your reader,” explains John Moore Williams, director of content strategy at Webflow. “It brings your reader into the story you’re weaving.”

Tip #3 Stay on Brand

This one is pretty obvious since there’s a very good chance that at the very top of your job description as a copywriter or UX writer is to establish the brand’s voice. Once you’ve established this voice it’s important to stay consistent with it so that users become familiar with this voice and associate it with your brand. However, Rich Staats, founder of Secret Stache Media, notes that it’s important to be consistent without being repetitive. “Don’t use redundant adjectives to spice up your copy,” Staats advises. “Instead, get creative and think up of different ways you can use words to make a strong impression and encourage users to take action.”

Tip #4 Trim the Fat

To Staats’ point about being consistent without being repetitive, here’s another piece of useful advice when creating content: Get to the point. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all your content should be as short as possible, but just that it shouldn’t be cluttered with extraneous words that only delay getting the user to the point you’re trying to make. In the words of Saadia Minhas from UX World, “omit needless words” in your copy. “It is a misconception that using two or three similar words will convey the meaning in a better way,” Minhas explains. “This is not correct. Write instructions and messages in a precise way.”

In other words, know when writing anything more would just be overkill.


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