Providing user interface with social competence

A man sitting at a desk holding a hand on his glasses in fornt of the computer.
What does social skills have to do with my mobile phone? The simple answer is that we consider our digital gadgets and apps as human – and therefore expect to communicate with our phones like with a human. This is an extremely important and interesting science in the work of user interfaces. How should one write copy for user interfaces – so-called microcopy?

Microcopy – providing social skills to user interface

The digital transformation is both fascinating and breathtaking. Automation and artificial intelligence are advancing our digital everyday lives when driverless cars and grocery stores without staff are soon commonplace. We already have our bus ticket on our mobile phones and chatbots who handle the conversations for customer service we interact with almost daily.

The fascination is not necessarily found in the technological conquests but rather in how we actually go against our nature as human beings – lacking the human contact.

Basically, we are social beings with the desire to be part of a context, where we are supported in difficult times and where we have someone to share joy and success with. Of course, we are different as individuals, but it is clear to see that through positive experiences in social situations, we create opportunities for new good relationships in the future.

What does social skills have to do with my mobile phone?

In the mid-nineties, American professor Clifford Nass gave a lecture about the topic “Computers are social actors”, a thesis that became a paradigm. In our expectation of response when we interact, we see no difference between whether it is a mobile phone or a human being. Simplified, we consider our digital gadgets and apps as human and therefore want to communicate with our phones like with a human.

This is an extremely important and interesting science regarding the work on user interfaces. The apps we use has simply become part of our social context — not just a person we chat with in Messenger or people we recognize in the photos on Instagram. We interact with apps as we would with a human being, and then it should reasonably treat us as if that was true.

Not just words

When I write copy for user interfaces, it is actually about programming a digital product’s social skills and speech skills. The personality of the product is created by the identity of the brand and the tone and language should characterize the social being of the product. The goal is always to find a voice that appeals and creates commitment and security.

Every person draw conclusions in an instance. In a fraction of a second, we have decided how we perceive a person. You read that right – in a fraction of a second! Thus, at the same furious pace, we draw conclusions about the products we interact with.

After all, when we talk, it’s not just words we communicate with. Equally important is our tone and how we respond. Therefore, we must not forget the so-called non-verbal communication, and always be observant of the contexts the user faces when using a product.

In a way, us humans are not very complex. We want to be able to relate to the person or people who are calling our attention.

Microcopy – a part of UX writing and the user experience

Writing for user interfaces has come to be known as microcopy. It’s really just a sub-category within what we call UX-writing, which in turn is a part of the entire ecosystem that revolves around the user’s experience of a product. It should not be confused with content design because UX-writing aims to get the user to interact with the product itself, and not necessarily what the product conveys in its content.

There is still a connection since the content reflects the product’s brand in exactly the same way as the texts in the user interface. Let us therefore be content with the fact that they speak the same language, but have different purposes.

So when I write microcopy, it’s not just about putting labels on buttons and composing smart error messages. One of the most important tasks is to be able to see what contexts have caused the user to end up where they are and how to proceed.

There is therefore no difference in working with UX-writing than with other parts of the user experience. Basically, it is about solving a problem for the user and at the same time making sure to go hand in hand with the business goals.

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