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Keeping It Simple

I've written before about my love of Cabin Pressure, a BBC radio show that follows the antics of a small airline. It's a lovely story about communication, expectations, and personal goals. Those happen to also be three things that come up quite a bit in UX, and in UX writing.

Today I was listening to the episode Johannesburg while doing some data entry, and this was the opening conversation between two stewards:

The humor from this exchange comes from the ridiculously confusing directions: concepts that could be explained in a few words are turned into a whole spiel.

When writing copy for UI, one of the biggest challenges is knowing how much information to share. The simple answer is to say "share what's necessary," but how do you know what that is? Ask yourself:

  • Where is the user coming from, and where are they going?

  • What are they trying to accomplish?

  • Do they need to know how things work, or just what the result will be?

  • Do they know the consequences of certain actions will be?

...and so on. If you've gone through that checklist and still have quite a long message, sometimes rewording can simplify the problem. Don't say "The text was successfully copied to your clipboard" when "Text copied" works just as well (and even better).

If you come from an English degree background like me, you'll likely have to unlearn academic writing. I was in the habit of making things sound academic, and making sure I was reaching that word requirement. But all good writing--UX, academic, and creative--is better when it goes straight to the heart of the matter.


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