What is Digital Copywriting?

The Evolution of Copy from Mad Men to UX Writing and Beyond

I am always surprised at the different responses I receive after telling people I’m a copywriter:

“Ah, you can help me protect my music.”

No. copywriting is not copyright (legal rights).

“Hmm... I’ve never understood what a copywriting business does”.

Actually, neither did I until I saw Don Draper in the groundbreaking TV series Mad Men.

My introduction to the art of copywriting was watching Draper – a 1960’s advertising executive – penetrate people’s desires, pitch ideas and write effective copy (even while drunk!) for print ads in magazines, newspapers, posters, brochures and billboards.

Don Draper pitching copy in Mad Men

However, the rise of digital content consumption created a need for digital copywriters who focus on online content such as websites, blog and article writing, social media, emails and more.

While the medium of copywriting has evolved, a digital copywriter shares many of the same skills as 1960’s Mad Men ‘offline’ copywriters – composing words, whether written or spoken, that evoke an action from a target audience (the product is called copy).

The Rise of UX Writing

While UX writing (also known as product copy, UI strings or microcopy) is not new, it is increasing in popularity. User experience (UX) writers craft all the text that guides your interaction with a product:

  • Chatbots
  • Menu copy
  • Error 404s
  • Field labels
  • Empty states
  • Placeholders
  • Notifications
  • Calls to action
  • Signup forms
  • Tiny text in buttons
  • Terms and conditions
  • Logins & password recovery
  • Instructions on product usage
  • Emails triggered by the product

Therefore, copy is a visual element of design and the visual presentation of copy has a great influence on user experience. My background in perceptual psychology/visual neuroscience offers me insight into users’ visual perception and how to best use copy in educating users through a particular product experience.

UX writing in apps

While writers are commonly brought in at the end of projects, I have found that collaboration with design teams from beginning to end is more efficient and improves outcomes. For example, one of my recent projects involved participating in a 5-day design sprint to explore the problem space and generate product ideas for new visual presentation software – Speedpix.

A facilitator and lead designer supported the week-long workshop. We conducted research activities including a card sort, interviews, and observing volunteers using the product for the first time.

Card sorting in a design sprint

The iterative design process started with a working prototype of the Speedpix product, then moved on to user flows and paper sketches. I worked with the designer and the company’s CEO to create wireframes, a taxonomy/labeling system, and microcopy for the product’s interface.

It was crucial to ensure balance between my writing and the designer’s fonts, colors, illustrations, icons, buttons, shapes and animations before moving onto high-fidelity visual designs.

After finalising interface design, annotated visual designs were handed back to the in-house development team. The outcome of the design sprint was a customer validated prototype which the executive team could use to push company thinking regarding product direction and strategy.

Digital Interfaces in the Future

As interfaces continue to evolve, I’m fascinated by how copywriting and UX writing will evolve with them. Good writing is vital whether the digital interface is virtual, holographic, 360-degree video, augmented reality or a pair of smart glasses.

Crafting copy in smart glasses

For example, writing in smart glasses raises the question of how text position and presentation effects comprehension while walking.

Virtual reality presents the challenge of how to cue users – should there be a BIG TEXT SIGN or an attention-grabbing VR character?

And while many of Apple’s patented ideas never see the light of day, one patent I hope becomes a reality is ‘interactive holograms’. Apple’s system aims to let you swipe and gesture to interact with projected images that appear to hang in mid-air.

It seems like new technologies will present endless possibilities for engaging content and the art of copywriting. For example, I have even written text messages for a client who required delicate and subtle writing to influence emotion and responses regarding a sensitive subject.

If you need a digital copywriter or UX writer, get in touch and let’s chat about your project.

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