January 24, 2022

But who the hell is writing the texts?

The world's best digital product studios have already understood that copywriters are as essential as designers and developers when creating great user experiences. However, there is still much work to do in this regard. This is how I went from journalism and storytelling to UX Writing, a sector in which communicators and editors have a lot to contribute

Marta Caballero

Marta Caballero

UX Writer and Content Strategist at Z1

But who the hell is writing the texts?
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Just two years ago, I was a reporter, a traditional editor... a lifelong journalist with one foot in the 20th century and the other in the 21st. I used to work in the press, in the Culture sections of different newspapers since the beginning of my career, although in recent years, I alternated writing with coordinating communication for some government projects. One morning, while I was in charge of the press for the Sevilla Film Festival, I received a call from Z1 to tell me that they needed a journalist in the Marketing and Communication team.

Back then, I didn't really know what they meant when they used the binomial "digital products" to define what they were doing. They explained it to me in detail during the interview. Z1 designed terrific apps for all kinds of sectors and clients from around the world. I told them that I was barely dealing with approximately six or seven apps for everything in life, and I think I mentioned that I once tried to send a fax from a coffee machine, which actually happened. They did not care about that emphasis on my ancestral technological limitations: at Z1, they value the diversity of backgrounds in their ranks and give importance to culture -not only digital- as an ally so that our work is optimal, to truly create projects based on human-centered design

That impressed me. I had the CEO of a successful company in front of me who, without blinking, was defending what even journalists have not been able to defend: our baggage, our way of relating and comparing, our knowledge of words and communication tools, all that sensitive matter that we can bring to the new world, although we usually forget it. His speech and that of Clarisa Guerra, the Head of Marketing, excited me. So, once the festival was over, after passing the selection process, I joined the Z1 team to take care of the content.

Z1 stands for journalists baggage, our way of relating and comparing, our knowledge of words and communication tools, all that sensitive matter we can bring to the new world.

I started writing articles, posting on networks, helping Clarisa to expand and improve the scope of our department, to draw the lines with which our studio, in full growth, should define itself in the outside world. At the same time, I began to immerse myself in the kind of magical teamwork thanks to which a handful of professionals from different profiles develop products that will travel in the pockets and into the homes and offices of thousands of people around the world to facilitate their daily life.

A few weeks after I joined, César Álvarez, our Design Director, came to me to ask if I could help with the texts of some screens that he had designed for one of our clients.

“Who wrote all this content? Had they given it to you written beforehand?” I asked him. César denied with a shake of the head. He had managed the task himself. Then I understood it: in this constantly expanding sector, designers, already overloaded with work, were also taking charge of words. And they were doing their best… but in this war, profiles like Clarisa's and mine had a lot to contribute.

An illustration about text, copy and design.

A microcopy, the sections of a landing, the flow of any application, the presentation of new branding to a client… all of them are, after all, a story. And a communicator, even if he or she hasn’t belonged to this world, although the differences between one sector and another are evident, is above all an expert storyteller capable of applying that knowledge to the extensive work of texts that digital studios such as Z1 require.

What usually happens is that since everyone knows how to write, everyone believes that they can face a copy. But putting letters together is not the same as building a story and finding the best way to communicate it to your readers.

Frequently, clients want to interfere with the content more than perhaps they should, sometimes doing themselves a disservice. In that sense, it was clear to us that we, the experts in words, had to enter into dialogue with our partners from the beginning. We started to collaborate side by side with colleagues from other departments so that the code, the design, and the texts will work harmoniously as a whole at the service of perfect communication.

Putting letters together is not the same as building a story and finding the best way to communicate it to your readers.

Since then, we have reinforced our training and expertise in content-led design, which is nothing more than the user experience applied and focused on communication. The optimal design process involves content at all times, and this requires incorporating UX writers into the team. Only this way a truly people-centered experience can be achieved, only this way we can prevent a user from leaving a website not because they do not like the appearance of it, but because they have not understood what we are asking them to do.

As previously said, both Clarisa and I already knew how to write a story, but the UX challenge had its peculiarities and it is necessary to enlighten ourselves daily by reading the helpful and constant information that can be found today on the subject. And, above all, consuming the content of our competitors with dragon-like hunger. Every time I subscribe to an app, I receive an error message, I follow a flow of steps to enjoy what a digital product offers, I read it with my new UX writer glasses.

Among those challenges, one of the most difficult for editors who come from other areas of communication is to write concisely. The synthesis capacity is, indeed, the main virtue of the UX writer. Say it short, clear, and bluntly, yes, but try to make creativity and originality shine as well. It is not an easy challenge, but it is exciting. After all, this is the difference between an average product and an exceptional one, a question that the best digital studios in the world already know and apply.

Every time I subscribe to an app, I receive an error message, I follow a flow of steps to enjoy what a digital product offers, I read it with my new UX writer glasses.

However, looking at our sector, we have found that the writer is often late in the process, not consulted until the design is done, and many unsuccessful experiences emerge from this circumstance. At Z1 we are turning this dynamic around, expanding our content team, and getting the writer to sit at the design table from planning to launch. Who better than a journalist to ask the clients what they want to communicate? Who better knows when a graphic resource will require a little more linguistic context for the user to assimilate it properly?

Therefore, we are not talking about making a last-minute fix with words but about planning, researching, devising and designing with a writer throughout the process. If at Z1 we help great entrepreneurs to build their products from scratch, natural logic requires that the care we provide in design and development have to be also applied to the elaboration of original, influential texts with their own personality. And, no, that cannot be solved by an algorithm.

Original, influential texts with their own personality cannot be solved by an algorithm.

This is good news for all that mass of talent that has seen their professional opportunities jeopardized with the digital world. There is work for us in this sector, beautiful work indeed. Positions that are not only about writing the text of a button but about researching, deeply understanding users... About all the contents of a product having a dialogue and a similar meaning and tone. Colleagues, here we can also have a great time doing what we enjoy the most and do best: creating good stories. And we must remind ourselves -because we often forget- that we are necessary.

Some of our content rules

  • Put yourself in the user's shoes: Where are they? What do they need? How much time do they have? What did they have for breakfast this morning?
  • There are no better stories than others, only ways to tell them. Behind the most arduous product, there may be an untapped narrative.
  • Make friends with SEO. We know... the guy is a pain in the ass, but he will be your best partner in crime to go further with your content. 
  • Do not beat about the bush. Try to keep in mind how people read on the internet.
  • Use all the tools you have at your fingertips; that’s what they are for (Grammarly, Wordreference, Notion, Dictionaries...).
  • Do not be afraid of the language, but take care of it daily if you are not an English native (classes, movies, songs, reading, writing exercises, beers with natives...).
  • Talk A LOT with designers. Sorry, I can't hear you. Chat with them even more. No, that’s not enough. Sit down next to them, talk, listen, and move forward together.
  • Soak up and read everything you can. Keep your eyes open to every single thing that can enrich your work. And when we say everything, we mean EVERYTHING.
  • Put your five senses in knowing what the client wants, and if they are wrong, tell them openly and honestly.
  • Assume that each product is different. Do not plagiarize yourself.
  • Let your brain regenerate; writing creatively is an important endeavor. Fortunately, we are not machines. If you have written a lot one day, everything may be better if you continue the following day and dedicate that afternoon to more mechanical tasks.
  • Get ready to write about things you have no idea about. This is a very dynamic job: at Z1 we have developed apps for trackers and alternative therapies, for bitcoin or for logistics companies... without us having any prior knowledge. Documentation and listening are vital in this regard. Work on them for as long as necessary before you start typing.