Copywriting and interface design: five unifying principles

Ever noticed the similarities between a copywriter approaching an article and a UX laying out an interface? Hierarchy, pace, consistency, hooks and editing are just five of the principles uniting us - as we seek to make better user experiences through words and design. So how do these principles play out day-to-day?

1. Hierarchy: guide the journey and narrative
Hierarchy is central to successful interfaces and writing. Imagine newspaper articles without headlines, stand-firsts or subheads. The reader would be lost; having no idea of relative importance or the natural flow of the copy.

Likewise on an interface, hierarchy creates a visual flow to information; whether through positioning, colours, weighting or use of imagery. Without hierarchy, each piece of content would be shouting for attention; overwhelming the user with choices and making them less likely to act.

2. Progressive disclosure: power to the people
The parallels made between newspaper journalism and online copywriting are long-standing (think 'inverted pyramid'). But the publishing / digital analogue can be taken further through progressive disclosure. In magazines, contents pages give a taster of the articles, allowing readers to decide what they want to read.

The same applies online, with landing pages showing summary content and users 'choosing' to go into more detail (not being dumped into it). Reveal content as needed, set the pace, like the plot of a good book.

3. Consistency: professional and predictable 
Nothing looks more unprofessional than a word spelt differently throughout an article: 'why not visit the web site for more; the website address is web-site.com'. A company name spelt wrong undermines the brand, while the absence of a house style breeds inconsistency.

It's the same story for an interface, where consistency gives the user something to hold on to as they learn how to use the site. Consistent colours and active states for links; page titles that match navigation labels and interactions functioning in a predictable way, all help the user avoid the unexpected.

4. Find the hook: be memorable
Online copywriting is about creating 'sticky content' that users engage with, revisit, link to and share via social media. This means finding a memorable hook for your story - whether humorous, controversial or informative. The same is true of user experiences, which should be memorable, potentially viral and based on one core idea. Stickiness in interfaces doesn't necessarily mean whizzy, sometimes it can be as simple as a barrier-free checkout process.

5. Brutal editing: kill the clutter
Reading online is up to 25 per cent slower than reading offline - so each word has to count. On an interface the same applies, always ask do we need that button, could we lose a promotion to reduce the clutter? Every aspect of a web page must serve a purpose; taking users on intuitive journeys to their end goals. Keep it task focused, cut the waffle, remove visual noise and make it worth the effort.

Final thought…

For me, writing and designing are two sides of the same coin. When both are given equal respect and time, really great user experiences come alive.

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