Genetics vs Environment

If your childhood was anything like mine, you heard a variation of the same idea on a daily basis: you become what you're around. Choosing your friends means choosing your future. If you listen to a hated song on repeat long enough, you'll come to like it. Watch enough immoral TV, your thoughts will become immoral.


Putting my 90s upbringing aside (I'm still mad I wasn't allowed to watch Power Puff Girls or Harry Potter because of "the magic"), there's a grain of truth there. We're a product of genetics, but also our environment.


So is our copy.


UX Copy & Genetics

My content will be different than yours simply because of who wrote it. As much as I try to remove my own voice and preferences from the process, writing is fluid enough that things as simple as sentence structure can produce a lot of variants. Give ten writers a message to write, and they'll come back with twelve.


I've heard writers and designers complain that UX writing is writing without the fun: trying to remove personality, leaving creativity behind. What they're missing is the challenge of infusing text with a voice that's not your own, striking that perfect balance of the right amount of information delivered at the right place and time.


And as a bonus: my personal writing has benefited from UX writing principles. I better understand pacing, when to parse out information, and how to write in a way that can punch.


UX Copy & Environment

If my writing is affected by who wrote it, its doubly affected by the environment in which I choose to raise it. I don't just mean the product or company its being produced for; obviously, content will vary on a dating app and a government website.


Content always starts as an idea. It lives within a feature, a flow.


It's discussed. And the way a feature is discussed will have a huge impact on the final content.


If my PM says we're developing a checklist, I'm going to be biased into using the term checklist in the flow, even if it's really more of a guide. If a designer internally calls users team members, that's likely to show up in multiple flows whenever they're addressed. If a new feature has a name in Jira and Figma, chances are that name will make it to production, even if it doesn't need a name at all.


"Oh, that's just the internal name we use" is a dangerous game to play. Content design relies heavily on mental models; if the product team solidifies their own, there's a risk it won't match how the user thinks.


Breaking the Chain

We can't always control the past and present. But during the writing process, ask yourself:

  • Is there anything here that's too me?

  • Are terms present because they're the best option, or just because they've been used before?

  • If there's a new feature or field, does it need a name? Or can it exist on its own?

Half the battle is just being aware of these pitfalls so they're easier to sidestep. Keep an eye on where your content came from, where it's going, and it'll grow up just fine.

Thanks for subscribing