Vilnius 2019 notes: Microcopy

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

Published: July 3, 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).