UI Design – What Is Microcopy, And Is Yours Harming Your Site?
If you are designing or running a website, then chances are you put a lot of time and effort into the overall user experience. You may even have done some usability studies, formally or informally, to see how well people from outside of your sphere react to the design and how intuitive they find your interface. This is all well and good, and is something everybody should be doing, after all a site with a good user interface is better for everybody – it’s better for your users because they won’t be frustrated, and it’s better for you because people will keep on coming back to your site. But, while people tend to put a lot of stock in what their navigation approach is, how they display different types of content, and how easy it is for users to complete actions like writing comments or submitting forms, there is one area of UI design that is all too often overlooked – Microcopy.
What Is Classed As Microcopy?
Microcopy, like all other copy, is words. But these are not the words your user reads as part of your latest insightful blog post or as a review of the product you are promoting. These are the words that allow your user to use your site in the way you intended. Microcopy can be the labels on your form fields, the little bits of instructive text about what they need to enter, the names of navigational links, and error messages. Microcopy exists everywhere, and because it is small, people tend to put very little thought into it. But it does actually present not only a way in which you can get things wrong and confuse your user, but also an opportunity to do some branding.
When micrcopy goes bad, it can make a person very confused. A simple example is on an address field in a form. You may see some that have three lines labelled ‘Address 1’, ‘Address 2’ and ‘Address 3’. Now, is the first one for just your apartment number and building, or is it for the number and the street? What if your house has a name instead of a number, do you put that in ‘Address 1’ and then the street in ‘Address 2’? Is ‘Address 3’ mandatory, even if you only need two lines to enter your address? Think how much easier it would be if ‘Address 1’ was ‘House number or name’, ‘Address 2’ was ‘Street name’, and ‘Address 3’ was ‘Area (optional)’? The more you can do to help your user without being overly verbose in your microcopy, the more they will enjoy using your site and the fewer forms you will have returned with mistakes on them.
Another reason to think carefully about your microcopy is that it can be a way to use the tone your business uses to enforce a little brand recognition. While this should never take precedence over usability, things like error messages or form submission confirmation screens where the user isn’t actually being asked to do anything can be great places to inject some personality.