The right tone in UX writing

Guest contribution by | 09.08.2021 | Processes & methods |

Reaching the user with conversational writing and voice & tone design

When it comes to UX writing or user-friendly writing, the right tone is insanely important. How do I address the user, what do I want them to think of me and how do I want to present myself to the outside world? Funny, serious, relaxed or rather extravagant? All these and many other elements are ideally defined in the so-called Voice & Tone Design of a brand before the first word is typed. But what is Voice & Tone Design and how do I find my own voice? I would like to get to the bottom of these and other questions with this article and the corresponding research. But let’s start at the beginning…

What is UX writing anyway?

UX writing or UX copywriting can be roughly translated as user-centred texting. UX writing is about writing and designing content for the user. In this way, the user feels welcome and valued not only visually, but also in terms of content. A UX writer is not so much a copywriter in the classical sense, but rather a communicator or interpreter between the system and the user.

Why is UX writing so important?

UX writing is important if you want to inspire users in the long term and make your website or app clearer. In contrast to marketing texts, UX texts focus on the user and not on the product or service. But it is precisely this attitude that makes UX writing so successful. It is not about promoting a product or putting a company in the best light, but about offering support to the user. In this way, you can increase the user experience and user guidance of your site/application and create a joy of use.

Convince the user with conversational writing

Classic UX writing follows the approach that you are in constant conversation with the user with the texts on your website or app. When it comes to UX copywriting, you should therefore pay particular attention to a conversational writing style. Kate Moran from the NNGroup describes in her article “The Impact of Tone of Voice on Users Brand Perception”¹ how conversational writing has a positive effect on the user experience and Cliffort Nass, professor at Stanford University, was able to prove in various experiments that a human interface convinces and appeals to users more.

Kinneret Yifrah, author of the book “UX Writing & Microcopy”² also advocates eliminating the distinction between written language style and spoken language style. She emphasises several times in her book that we may write as we speak, as long as it is polite, respectful and grammatically correct. According to Yifrah, we should say goodbye to the myth that a written speaking style is automatically more serious and of higher quality than its verbal counterpart.

“Even if your brand is really serious, you don’t necessarily have to make users feel like you’ve sent your lawyers to talk to them – send the account manager instead.” – Kinneret Yifrah

Before we get to UX writing

Some time ago, I published an article on the topic of UX-Writing in my own blog (in German). In it, I give concrete tips on what to consider when producing UX texts. But before you switch browser tabs and start typing with motivation, you should read on to learn more about Voice & Tone Design. It can help you to write in the language of your users in the future and thus build a long-term bond with them.

What is Voice & Tone Design?

Voice & Tone Design basically defines the language you use to communicate with your users – a corporate language, so to speak. In contrast to the so-called Corporate Design, the graphic corporate identity, the Voice & Tone Design ensures that all written communication channels of your company (emails, website texts, microcopy, newsletters, social media posts etc.) are consistent and sound like you. Like your corporate colours or logo, it represents your corporate values and personality, and thus influences how your users perceive you.

Why is the right Voice & Tone Design so important?

Do you still remember Clifford Nass? The Stanford University professor who found that human interfaces persuade users more? Well, in his many experiments he gained other insights, for example that people view digital products where content and tone are inconsistent with suspicion and rejection. Inconsistency in design, text or content tends to confuse people and reduce trust. Conversely, test persons understand messages better and find them more convincing if the non-verbal elements correspond to the verbal elements.

These experiments underline the importance of defining a Voice & Tone Design for your brand. Thanks to it, one communicates one’s own values consistently, clearly and understandably and addresses the users in a targeted manner. Furthermore, with the “right tone”, you radiate authenticity and increase your recognition value, which goes beyond the logo.

How do you find your voice?

The right tone, i.e. the Voice & Tone Design, should be just as much a part of corporate identity as colours, a logo or a slogan. But how do you define your own tone? Who defines it and how exactly do you go about it? Questions upon questions, the answers to which would go beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, I don’t want to completely disregard the practical “how to”. If you really want to know how to go about creating your own corporate language, I recommend the book “UX Writing & Microcopy” by Kinneret Yifrah. No, this is not hidden or paid advertising 😉 Personally, I find the book simply ideal for raising awareness of UX writing and having some kind of guide for your own Voice & Tone Design. Alternatively, I found this article very practical and informative for defining your own brand voice: Tone of Voice: How to define your brand voice.³

Back to the question of who defines the new corporate language: Since in this country a concrete position is rather rarely created for this project, basically anyone who is familiar with the brand culture in the company, has analytical skills, is open to change and is good at copywriting can dedicate himself to this topic. However, it is not uncommon for marketing staff, content strategists, creative directors or copywriters to take on this task.

Record Voice & Tone as a guide

After completion, the Voice & Tone Design of a brand is ideally recorded as a kind of guideline in a PDF or Word document or as a PowerPoint presentation. Why do this? So that everyone in the company can refer to it afterwards and internalise its guidelines. In this way, communication in the company’s own language is facilitated and implemented consistently, regardless of the communication channel, point of contact or position of the respective employee. In addition, the guide can, for example, accompany onboarding processes or help to open up new communication channels.

It is best to store the Voice & Tone Guide in a central location so that every employee can access it. It is also helpful to hold a workshop in which the new guide is presented to colleagues. It is also important to appoint a person responsible for the Voice & Tone Design and its guidelines. This person then updates and reviews the guidelines regularly and is the contact person in case of questions or difficulties.

Why don’t companies have Voice & Tone Design?

The theory and advantages behind UX writing and Voice & Tone Design are clear to many. Nevertheless, the majority of companies in this country do not have a corporate language, but only a visual corporate identity. Why is that? Why do many consider the visual aspects of a company representation such as colours, design or the logo to be important, but linguistically everyone is allowed to “add their two cents”?

At this point I can only speculate myself, as there is no meaningful data on this. In the field of online and digital marketing, various studies in recent years have shown that selected online marketing measures are not implemented mainly because of too high costs, a lack of know-how or too much work. Perhaps these hurdles also apply to the introduction of a Voice & Tone Design?

I also know from my own experience that people somehow tend to skip this step because they quickly think they know how to “speak” for their brand. Kinneret Yifrah also seems to be aware of this fact, because she emphasises in her book that you should not skip the step of establishing a Voice & Tone Design – no matter which and how much texts you want to write for your company at which point in time.

My learnings on UX writing and Voice & Tone

At the beginning of this article, my intention was this: I wanted to learn more about the topic of Voice & Tone Design and how to create it. Now that I have finished my article, however, I have realised that something else is even more important: the awareness of one’s own brand language and its necessity for one’s own corporate identity.

Everyone is probably aware that you can’t design a company website without the right colours or a logo. But probably very few people think about the right language guidelines. And even if you have found the right tone for your brand, many probably do not record it in detail for different communication channels and with practical examples in a document. But precisely this documentation can be the key to better brand communication and tip the scales in favour of skilfully standing out from the competition. At the end of the day, it is the combination of images and text that makes a design so effective, not just a “fancy” interface. So let’s not just focus on the visual aspects of a website/application, but also give the words in it the attention they deserve.

Conclusion

UX writing and Voice & Tone Design are two terms that not everyone in this country has heard yet. It is therefore all the more important that we talk about them more often, raise awareness of them and, ideally, practice them. With a bit of luck, in a few years they will then take on the same importance in the design process as the graphic design of a surface and, together with it, form an unbeatable team.

 

Notes:

[1] The Impact of Tone of Voice on Users’ Brand Perception
[2] Kinneret Yifrah, UX Writing & Microcopy, erschienen 2020 im Rheinwerk Verlag
[3] Tone of Voice: Wie Sie Ihre Markenstimme definieren

Other sources:

Kinneret Yifrah: 6 reasons to design a voice and tone for your digital product
Wie Sie Ihre Tone-of-Voice-Leitfaden schreiben

Franziska Tietz

Franziska Tietz

Franziska Tietz is an online editor, blogger and UX designer in training. For a long time, she wrote web texts for small and medium-sized companies as a copywriter and content manager before launching her own blog project in 2020. On her German blog “How to UX“, she regularly deals with selected user experience topics and also reports on various training opportunities in the industry.