Text is often a neglected factor in user interface design, despite the fact that good copy reinforces good design and enhances usability. What we say, and how we say it, are critical factors in helping users interact with, and have good experiences with the software and applications we build. Copy that is clear and concise will help increase the understandability of an interface. Bad copy can ruin it. We often need words to help clarify and guide. From text as a button, to instructions, to error messages, words can be a powerful tool to help users understand context, and get things done. So choose every word, and every phrase with care.

Clear, friendly, and helpful styles always win over complex jargon.  Words work in harmony with images, color, layout and other design elements to express a feeling, personality, and overall experience. Text and design work best together.

Trip Advisor’s Seat Guru app is an example of design that depends on copy to guide and clarify. The seat map key is useful, too, because sometimes an icon or a color code is not enough on its own.

Are you talking to me?

Knowing who you are talking to is important in keeping your words effective.

As Anders Matre Gåsland emphasizes in the Computas blog entry “3 psykologiske teorier for design,” design is about communication and design affects user actions. The same is true for copy. What we say and how we say it has a big impact on the actions that users take. It also affects how users feel.

How we talk – our style and tone, strongly affect the impact we have on others, and the types of reactions they have to us. This style and tone makes up our voice: our personality and brand identity. All text that users see—from a label on an interface, to complex technical instructions, should embrace a deliberate and consistent voice.

pintrest blog - text example3
Pintrest has a casual, direct, and slightly playful style that is consistently applied in all types of communication.

Tips for creating impactful content

  • Be clear about what you are saying and why. Tell people what they need to know, and then get out of the way.
  • Know your audience. Who are your users? How are they feeling? Impatient? Worried? Curious?
  • Consider words in combination with design so they work best together.
  • Anticipate user needs, and use the text to offer solutions to trigger action.
  • Consider the market and localization needs. Make sure that the message, including style and tone, are effective in other cultures and languages, if relevant.
  • Be deliberate and consistent in applying style and tone.
  • At the end of the day, we are looking for ways to clarify, simplify, and help people get things done. Words have a big impact on the experiences we create for our customers. Remember that good copy is also good design!

Voice and copy writing inspiration

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited, by Steve Krug is a a fun and easy to read book that explains simple, guiding principles of usability.

Also, take a look at how Slack and Mail Chimp work with voice. Both have been successful in how they have defined, evolved, and applied voice in their organizations for their users.


One voice many hands

Words are hard

Mail Chimp

Voice and tone


Om Lise Hauger

Lise is a project manager at Computas with extensive background in communication and user experience in software application development. She is an advocate for clear and direct language as a means to increase usability and customer satisfaction of products and services.

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