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Microcontent and Microcopy in service of UX

Written by Ronit Galer, UX Consultant

We recently started working on a new application for a client, so after several conversations and brainstorming sessions, we had a thorough understanding and the documentation of what was needed. Being the UX designer in the team, I started to sketch the wireframes.

While creating the wireframes and establishing the user flow, paying attention to the correct Microcopy and Microcontent was the key to solving many design issues that came up along the work process.

My curiosity aroused when I was deliberating regarding titles styling and CTA buttons terminologies and I decided it’s a good opportunity to dig in a little deeper and create some structure around the subtleties of microcontent and microcopy.

Microcontent in UX

According to Jakob Nielsen, User Advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, “Microcontent needs to be pearls of clarity: you get 40-60 characters to explain your macrocontent. Unless the title or subject make it absolutely clear what the page or email is about, users will never open it.”

I completely agree with this explanation and I would like to add that whether a website or an app has plenty of content or not a consistent styling of the header and title components, which go hand in hand with the page layout, is essential to ensure the subsistence of the “pearls of clarity” as Neilsen calls it.

As you can see in the following screenshot, the headers and titles on Dribble signup page have a substantial role in the easy and fast way it is digested.

Screen Shot 2016 03 30 At 16 59 33

In short, microcontent means editing and styling a small part of the content that explains the whole of the content (macrocontent).

Good Microcopy is Important

Most of the time a website or an application will be built based on the content, but some of the content in them is actually a UX tool called Microcopy.

As a matter of fact, Microcopy plays an eminent part in UX design by providing a psychological implement for user accessibility and user experience.

In plain words, Microcopy is the short instructional text or copy that is supposed to give the users a sense of direction and confidence when using a website or application.

According to Bill Beard’s article in Smashing Magazine, if the design works well, then not many words are needed, so “short” is meant as up to 8 words.

It is also important that the text will be in a conventional language that the target user can relate to. Whether the Microcopy is clear enough or not has a tremendous impact on the user experience. For example, using the wrong terminology on a link / button can be confusing at the very least or misleading at worst, but in any case, that will most likely fault the user experience and will potentially lead to losing users who may not return a second time.

For example, these error messages on the IKEA login page are confusing because they repeat the same text for different fields and are not specific enough.

IKEA log inIn short, microcopy means creating a specific copy for instructing and assuring the user when using the website or application.

Copy Sources and Resources

There’s no doubt that microcontent and microcopy are an essential part of the user experience and the UX designer is the one who tackles them the most, starting from sketching the wireframes and finishing with coding the backend design.

However, the UX designer is not a professional copywriter and it is not always obvious who is responsible for the copy. So who is?

Possible answers A . The UX designer B. The Business Analyst C. All of the above D. None of the above, because we actually need a copywriter/ marketing team

Well, the truth is there isn’t only one correct answer to this question.

Who's responsible for the copy depends on the necessity and the budget of a project; in certain projects it’s enough to discuss copy with the client/user and in others a professional copywriter will be needed.

The necessity of a professional copywriter usually depends on whether a website or an app is commercial or not. As the matter of fact, the first example that springs to mind is E-Commerce websites that rely on good microcopy when applying to multiple users and sectors in trying to achieve and increase conversions. On the other hand, when developing an internal system it could be enough for the Business Analyst and UX designer to discuss its terminology with the client, who is the main and only user.

In its signup screen, Asos presents some fun and attractive microcopy to encourage the user to join and doesn’t leave any chance for an error in the registration process.

ASOS signup screen

Microcontent and Microcopy should be considered at the beginning of a project

The bottom line is that considering both microcontent and microcopy in the early stages of a project will help solve and avoid design issues further down the line and will help in keeping the consistency and context in the final product, ensuring that the user experience is enjoyable and effective.

Moreover, Microcontent and Microcopy should be taken into consideration by all people involved in the initial product planning and, if necessary, a marketing professional should be sought for advice.