Apology, or invitation. What’s your message?

Are you being served?

If this were a checkout operator speaking to you, which would you think was most friendly and helpful?

Two signs; Same context, audience and purpose. More design effort has gone into one, but it is the choice of words here which has the most impact on the message they convey.

So when it comes to fine tuning a digital user interface, why is there such a focus on graphic interaction design elements, often tweaked to the nearest pixel with less importance given to copy and messaging?

Refreshingly, a recent website usability project came from the opposite angle. My client had accepted they were deeply immersed in the technical nature of their product and their way of communicating it was out-of-whack with terms their target market would relate to.

The team realised that regardless how perfectly their visual design and site architecture presented their product, it was the words they used to communicate their product which would make it fly…. Or not.

Working with a technical copywriter we were able to identify phrases which really resonated with people, which to avoid and critically, what copy should be ‘front and centre’ to engage and convert potential customers.

During the flow of research participants, we made copy changes on the fly, gaining immediate reaction to provide a rapid cycle of improvement.

As well as taking us down the path of making sense and talking people’s language, it was a strong lesson to get rid of that ‘lorem ipsum’ placeholder text as early as possible when getting feedback from customers.

3 thoughts on “Apology, or invitation. What’s your message?

  1. Simon Johnson

    I agree wholeheartedly. I would add one word of caution, make sure you avoid disingenuous phrases, marketing speak and weasel words.

    People like straight forward, plain English speech especially after decades of political ‘spin’ and corporate hog-wash.

  2. Janine Griffin

    Hey Nick, thanks for the plug.

    I think the main reason why there is such a focus on graphic elements while copy is reglected is that all of us use words every day. It’s easy to forget that there is actually some skill involved in putting them together. Also, pictures, especially ones that move, are more exciting than words and, presto! your words are at the back of the class wondering if anyone will remember that they, too, need some coaching in order to play nicely with everyone else in the class.

  3. Jacob Creech

    Love the image you’ve used to illustrate this post! As you say, the same message, but two completely different ways of expressing it. It’s amazing the effect this can have on the user experience.

    Janine, I also want to second your comment – a great site needs to be a combination of great design, usability, and great content plus lots of other little things. Some people seem to think that because some sites succeed without one or more of these elements, it means they aren’t important. Great design doesn’t have to mean big and flashy either!

    I’m sure if there were better looking, and equally as functional sites as craigslist.com people would flock to them, but the functionality and niche are very important too.

    Oh, by the way, I’m one of the guys from IntuitionHQ.com – I saw your comment (Nick) on A List Apart, so I thought I’d drop by to say hi. I’ve actually stumbled across your blog before, and was very happy to see more people pushing usability and UX in New Zealand. If you’d like to know a little more about us, please feel free to email me on this address, or hit us up on twitter @intuitionhq – we’d love to know more about you too.

    And sorry for the long comment! Cheers.

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