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UX Writing Lessons From "The Menu"

Full disclosure, spoilers abound. Read at your own risk.

As my husband and I walked out of the theatre today, a man behind us leaned over to his date and said, "What the hell did I just watch?"

The Menu: you'll love it or hate it. I LOVED it.

The film takes place in an exclusive restaurant on an isolated island. The shots are like something out of Iron Chef or Chopped: showcasing brilliantly prepared and presented plates for the invited guests, not to eat, but to savour.

Some of the guests are there because, well, they're rich and that's what you're meant to do: pretend you like duck foam and whatever the heck confit is. Others are there so they can take photos for social clout. One is a reviewer, another a true "foodie," and then there's our main character: Margo, a woman brought along who knows and cares nothing about the high art of cuisine.

The movie truly gets going in the second or third course, called "The Mess," where the sous chef dies.

Everyone in the restaurant, in fact, will die. They will be killed for food because they themselves killed food. It's part of today's menu.

Yes: it's ridiculous, and weird, and the film being described as "horror/comedy" is fitting. But in spite (because?) of this absurd scenario, every scene, from bloodshed to the presenting of a bread plate sans bread, is full of tension.

What does this have to do with UX Writing?

The movie spends its time making fun of not only the art of cooking, but art in general and the ways it becomes impure by those who:

  • claim to understand it or enjoy it but do not

  • have blindly bought into the claim that perfection can be attained

  • destroy careers with a harsh review or word

  • make the practice a fluffed-up intellectual exercise

Sound familiar? UX Writing is one of those professions where the inner circle love to talk about the "magic," the years of skill it takes to perfect. Some believe it can solve all product and design issues; others have no patience for those who are just starting out, or who dare make the transition from marketing or technical writing. Some try to be overly intellectual or complex so it seems like they're doing something great when, really, their text is an overly presented but malnourishing meal.

Margo manages to get away by reminding the chef why he fell in love with cooking: to feed people, make something that they'll enjoy. She sends back his menu of gel and foam and orders a cheeseburger, medium, side of fries. It's the best thing served all night.

Writing--creative, UX, and every other kind of writing; heck, every other kind of art--shouldn't exist so it can be judged and awarded and savoured and reviewed. It should nourish. It should meet a need, and there is nothing wrong if that need is as simple as making something understandable.

Don't misunderstand me: skill matters. Refinement matters, as does being proud in your work or art or writing. But we as UX Writers do ourselves and our users a disservice when we try to complicate the process, to create something as though it were a masterpiece. We should be writing the cheeseburger, not the duck: creating in a simple, straight-forward way, no frills, with clear purpose.


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