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UX Writing Lessons from the Pharmacy

A few months ago, back in Bulgaria, I ran to the pharmacy to get a refill on a prescription. Without even typing on her computer, the pharmacist shook her head as I named the pill I needed. No luck.


Well, no worries. It's happened before. I thanked her and, later in the day, stopped by another apteka. This pharmacist ran a search on his computer, but same thing: out of stock.


Third time's the charm? I picked a pharmacy in the heart of downtown, where I knew they'd speak English so I wouldn't have to navigate a more complicated conversation in my (extremely limited) Bulgarian. This pharmacist also confirmed that the pill wasn't available, but provided some additional information: the pill didn't exist in all of Bulgaria. There was a global shortage, and we wouldn't see imports again for at least a few weeks.


No worries turned into, actually, a lot of worries. I only had about a week's worth of supplies left, and I didn't want to go through withdrawal. I did my own research and found that what she'd said was true, and signed up to get an alert when the restrictions on exports were lifted. Still, maybe some pharmacy had some older boxes gathering dust.


I tried several more with no success. At the final pharmacy, I asked knowing the answer, but as I started walking away my husband asked a different question.


"And you don't have a generic version either?"


Lights and doves from heaven. Star-eye emojis. Flooded relief. Why, yes, they did have a generic version, would we like that?


The main source of my anxiety was gone, but it wasn't long before it was replaced with mild irritation. Why hadn't I been asking that question all along? I could have saved myself so much time and stress.


Cue the UX lessons:


Sometimes the user isn't asking for exactly what they want.


My question was phrased with the brand name, but in my case, a generic version works just as well. Instead of getting a blanket no, a better user experience would have been "No, but..."


Think about a user who searches for a history on your product, but the problem is, you call it a log. While "No search results" is technically correct, a "Did you mean..." or "How about..." would take away most of that frustration.


Words matter.


I mean, obviously. That's the whole point of this, and of UX writing. But, specifically, vocabulary matters. Even if the scientific name is the broadest term, it didn't fit my language. I never use it in conversation, even in medical settings.


Sometimes the technically correct term isn't the best one. And sometimes one term alone doesn't do the job.


Most people know what AI is, but it would still be important to put (artificial intelligence) on a page for those who don't.


Users don't ask just to ask.


I wasn't asking if the pharmacies had a certain pill because I was curious, or because I was running some sort of study. It was something I needed.


Users don't live in a vacuum. They don't use our products just to use them: there's always a purpose behind it. If an earlier pharmacist had put themselves in my shoes, they could have thought, "Well, we don't have that exactly, but maybe this will solve her needs."


Sometimes user stories and journeys are drafted and immediately abandoned, but their simplest function is the most useful: What does the user want? Why are they here?


Interactions last.


For awhile afterwards, I was a bit worried each time I had to get a refill. I learned that I have to be extra careful and thorough about the way I phrase my questions.


Sucks, but it's true that one negative experience can color our perception a heck of a lot more than a few positive ones. If we focus on good UX principles from the beginning, everyone can get on happily.

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