Writing with empathy: how to make software human and relatable

C918ea46728ba27aa936c795995c03d6?s=47 Laura Parker
November 25, 2019

Writing with empathy: how to make software human and relatable

Presented at Northern UX.

You can design the most beautiful app, but if the copy is hard to read, people will get frustrated, ignore it, and delete it.

I tackle things like:

How to keep a beginner’s mind when you’re creating a product
User anxiety and how to write for users with dyslexia, autism and anxiety
Reading psychology and how to balance empathy and humour in your writing
How writers and designers can work better together

This talk is not just for writers or content designers. If you’re a product owner, developer, designer or manager, come along.


Laura Parker

November 25, 2019


  1. @lmpcopywriter Hello, NUX Laura Parker, UX Writer

  2. @lmpcopywriter UX writing and copywriting • Similar, but a different

 — Copywriting is writing to sell
 — UX writing is writing to inform • UX writing helps people interact with a product or service
 — UX copy includes buttons and menu labels, error messages, security notes, terms and conditions, instructions. • UX writers are also similar to content designers and technical writers 
 — We’re all working to solve the same problem…

  3. @lmpcopywriter Problem: how do you make software human and relatable?

  4. @lmpcopywriter https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ui-copy/

  5. @lmpcopywriter Keep a beginner’s mind Don’t assume the user knows

  6. @lmpcopywriter What’s a beginner’s mind? • We create new things

    all the time 
 — But we forget what it's like to be a new user. • A new user might be anxious about using your product 
 — Give them everything they need and nothing more. • We know too much (curse of knowledge) 
 — The more you know, the further you are from the beginner’s perspective. • Users have existing expectations and behaviours
 — Don’t assume users will find your product intuitive if they do the same thing differently on other apps/websites. 

  7. @lmpcopywriter A note about user anxiety • User anxiety is

    when you don’t understand how to use something • Writers can help users feel less anxious by 
 — being obvious (keep a beginner’s mind)
 — using plain language 
 — avoiding jargon (but if it’s useful, leave it in)
 — writing consistently (do we say ‘click’ or ‘tap’) Monzo spending alert
  8. @lmpcopywriter It helps to know how we read • Our

    cognitive load (mental effort) increases 11% for every 100 words • We prefer high frequency words over low frequency words (use forums to discover audience vocabulary) • Users read about 20% of text on a page • We guess what words mean by the shape of them, it’s called a saccade rhythm (use words readers can skip using their natural saccade rhythm) • Most people can recognise 15,000 words — Jakob Nielsen, How little do users read — Sarah Richards, Content Design
  9. @lmpcopywriter Our eyes don’t see every letter in a word

    or every word in a sentence. Our eyes skip along the text in small jumps called saccades. After each saccade, our brain takes a snapshot and arranges the letters into words. Those pauses are called fixations. — Jost Hochuli, Detail in Typography
  10. @lmpcopywriter Empathy v humour Writing with flavour

  11. @lmpcopywriter — Audible — https://uxdesign.cc/writing-clearer-error-messages

  12. @lmpcopywriter — Slack — Trello — MailChimp

  13. @lmpcopywriter Accessibility: writing with empathy • Average UK reading age

    is 9-13 years • 1.4 million people have a learning disability in the UK (source: Mencap) • Poor internet connection • Busy people • Physical injuries “Getting to the point quickly has less to do with intelligence and more to do with time and respect.” — Sarah Richards, Content Design
  14. @lmpcopywriter Not all disability is visible

  15. @lmpcopywriter github.com/ UKHomeOffice/posters

  16. @lmpcopywriter microsoft.com/en-us/ accessibility

  17. @lmpcopywriter http://actiondeafness.org.uk/product/deaf-awareness-posters/

  18. @lmpcopywriter Brands play it safe with their humour, and not

    safe enough with their empathy. If your writing is genuinely funny, go for it. But do it with all users in mind.
  19. @lmpcopywriter Balancing empathy and humour • Have a moment with

    the reader 
 — Use empathy to find when a user is having a moment, and be a part of it. • Keep a beginner’s mind
 — Skip the what and go directly to the why. Focus on why your product is useful. • Use simple, everyday language 
 — It helps everyone, especially those with a visual impairment, dyslexia or anxiety. • People don’t find the same things funny
 — Humour is risky.
  20. @lmpcopywriter

  21. @lmpcopywriter

  22. @lmpcopywriter — Andrew Schmidt, Slack

  23. @lmpcopywriter Clients do this

  24. @lmpcopywriter Working with designers Your most important working relationship

  25. @lmpcopywriter Because… • You share the same problems 

    “I need answers to this, this and this before I can start.” • You ask (roughly) the same questions
 — “Who am I writing/designing for? What’s the purpose? Brand guidelines?” • And, you make things together

  26. @lmpcopywriter Most designers have never 
 worked with a writer

  27. @lmpcopywriter How to work with designers • Give them your

    copy in advance 
 — Don’t leave it till the last minute to send your copy. Think about the design deadline too. • Send copy in a text file, Pages, or anything else but MS Word
 — Ever watched a designer try to open a Word doc? Most designers don’t use MS Word. • Ask for feedback
 — Feedback can only improve your work. • Celebrate their moments of copy greatness 
 — A designer wrote some of my favourite copy, don’t be jealous. 

  28. @lmpcopywriter Done is better than perfect

  29. @lmpcopywriter Problem: how do you make software human and relatable?

  30. @lmpcopywriter Answer: write honestly using 
 simple language

  31. @lmpcopywriter • Keep a beginner’s mind
 — What’s obvious to

    you won’t be the same for your audience.
 — Make your audience feel less anxious by using high frequency words. • Be empathetic and cautious with humour
 — People with autism might not understand metaphors or idioms.
 — Don’t risk simplicity for the sake of a joke. • Work better with designers 
 — It’s not them and us, we’re in it together.
 — work in short stints and communicate.
  32. @lmpcopywriter UX copy tips • Avoid negative contractions (can’t’, ‘won’t’,

 — Some people rely on reading the ‘not’ to understand what is being said. • Be obvious and literal
 — Short descriptions are not always better if critical information is missing or there's no context. • Use ‘today,’ ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow’ instead of a date
 — People don’t use the date when they refer to the day before the present day. • Avoid long blocks of text
 — Look at your work on a mobile to check spacing. • Use high frequency words
 — High frequency words are easy to skip using the saccade rhythm. 

  33. @lmpcopywriter People with learning disabilities are experts on accessible information.

    They know what works for them and what does not. It is common sense to involve the people you are trying to communicate with in your work process. Involve people with learning disabilities from the very beginning. https://www.changepeople.org/getmedia
  34. @lmpcopywriter Thanks!

  35. @lmpcopywriter People to follow
 Andrew Schmidt (senior product writer at

    Slack): https://www.andrewschmidt.net 
 Jared Spool (UX genius): https://www.uie.com @jmspool
 Craig Wright (tech writer): https://straygoat.co.uk
 Erika Hall (designer): https://muledesign.com @mulegirl
 Caio Braga (product designer) https://caioab.com @caioab
 Paul Boag (UX expert): https://boagworld.com @boagworld Links to click 
 Readability Guidelines: https://readabilityguidelines.myxwiki.org
 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: https://www.w3.org
 Rules of Effective UX Writing: https://uxplanet.org/16-rules-of-effective-ux-writing-2a20cf85fdbf
 The Unusable podcast: https://podcast.theunusable.com
 Content Design London: http://contentdesign.london
 Microsoft accessibility kit: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-gb/style-guide/welcome/
 UK Home Office accessibility posters: https://github.com/UKHomeOffice/posters/blob/master/accessibility/
 UX Collective: https://uxdesign.cc
 UK disability facts and figures: http://www.craigabbott.co.uk/accessibility-is-not-an-edge-case Cartoons by webcomicname.com
  36. @lmpcopywriter Web