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Vilnius 2019 notes: Microcopy

Notes from the microcopy conference talk at Write the Docs Vilnius 2019.

Write the Docs Vilnius 2019 saw some excellent talks. Somewhat belatedly, I'm writing up my notes. Here's the first.

Speaker: Hadas Khen

Introducing microcopy

  • Microcopy is a few select words in the UI. Think of it as mini help text.
  • It should relate to user actions, such as completing a form:
    • Before: motivate
    • During: instruct
    • After: feedback
  • Think about voice and tone, just like you would for your documentation or marketing copy.
  • Consider your target audience:
    • What are they trying to accomplish with your software?
    • What is their "culture of use": their tech level, environment, reading level and so on.
  • View your software from the user's perspective. A new user encountering unclear text results in frustration.
  • Avoid fluff, don't be rude, be human.
  • Consider: quantity, tone, placement, timing and result.

Error messages

Error messages are a particularly difficult type of microcopy, as they usually appear in situations where the user is already frustrated.

  • Bad error messages disrupt and frustrate the user, and add to support strain.
  • Good error messages do the following:
    • State the problem
    • Indicate what went wrong
    • Provide a solution
  • Be clear, practical, calm, and keep it simple.
  • Consider progressive disclosure: a simple error message with the option for the user to read more. This keeps the UI clean but allows interested users to dig deeper.
  • Your error messages are your first line of customer support. Be professional (and don't blame the user).