Archive for the ‘Copywriting’ Category

I’m excited to be part of the speaker lineup for the Seattle Interactive Conference, taking place November 2-3 at the Conference Center of the Washington State Convention Center. The conference explores “technology, creativity, and emergent trends”, and apparently aims to become a sort of SXSW of the Pacific NW.

I’ll be talking about verbal strategy and verbal creativity in branding, social media content, web content, and UX design. If you’re interested in attending, you can knock $150 off the price is you register using the code SICSPEAKER2011. I hope to meet you there!

6 Oct 2011

Seattle Interactive Conference

Author: Christopher Johnson | Filed under: Copywriting, Events, Microcontent, Microcopy, Microvoice, Speaking, UI copy

UI copy, or microcopy, as some people call it, should help users do things with confidence.

Here’s a case of microcopy that doesn’t work for me. Whenever I sign up for a service on the web that wants to access my Twitter login credentials, I see a message like this one:

When I get to this message, I always press “Cancel.” I stop signing up. I can’t get past the first set of bullet points, the ones under “This application will be able to:”. The first bullet point is fine; I assume the application will be able to “read” my tweets. The next three make me panic, though:

  • See who you follow, and follow new people.
  • Update your profile.
  • Post tweets for you.

This microcopy achieves great brevity by personifying the application. That in itself isn’t a problem–we discuss software in human terms all the time. We think and talk about it as if it had intelligence and performed cognitive tasks. It’s a metaphor that’s useful and usually harmless. But in this case it obscures the issue of who’s in charge.

The problem with these bullet points is that they assign all the agency to the application, making it the subject of see, follow, update and post. They give me the impression that the application will be able to make decisions for me and speak on my behalf, putting words in my mouth. You know those messages you see on Twitter sometimes, like “I just signed up for ______!”, that are boilerplate copy not even written by the person they’re attributed to? That’s what I’m talking about. I hate that stuff.

When you use text-based social media like Twitter, your writing voice, your microvoice, is all you have. Do you want someone else taking control of it? I don’t.

It would be easy enough to fix this:

  • Access your followers so you can follow new people.
  • Access your profile so you can update it.
  • Post your tweets for you.

These small changes in wording make the copy longer, but not so long that it’s a problem. And they would reassure me. They make it clear that decisions about who to follow, how to update my profile, and what to tweet will be made by me. So I think they’re worth the extra words.

Short is good, but shorter isn’t always better.

5 Aug 2011

Microstyle in UI: A Twitter case study

Author: Christopher Johnson | Filed under: Copywriting, Grammar, Microcontent, Microcopy, Microvoice, UI copy

It always cheers me up to see small, well crafted messages in unexpected places. Like on the little signs stuck into hunks of cheese, for example. The folks at the Calf and Kid, a sort of Pacific Northwest cheese boutique in Seattle’s Melrose Market, go the extra mile to make their descriptive signage entertaining. Click on the image above to get the larger version, and you’ll see that the sign in the middle says “This aged beauty will make you want to date a cougar of your own.” OK, a little hokey maybe, but it made me laugh. The other signs are like that, too. I spent a few minutes just reading them for fun, even though I had no intention of buying the pricey cheese with my two little hungry cheese monkeys, aged six and three, in tow.

1 Feb 2011

Microstyle everywhere. Even on cheese.

Author: Christopher Johnson | Filed under: Copywriting, Signs