If you spend as many hours as I do reading ‘UX Writer’ job adverts you start to notice some trends. For example, what’s the difference between a ‘Content Strategist’ and a ‘Content Manager’? I’ve spent hours thinking about the differences between the two. I never said it was a glamorous job but somebody has to do it.
As we roll through the new year, I thought it was time to take stock and share five important trends for the next couple of years. These apply whether you are a grizzled hack or at the start of your career.
They’ll start coming up in meetings (if they haven’t already) so if you want to look smart, read on.
(1) Remote UX writer roles are here to stay
Before 2020, the number one request I received was to include more remote job listings in the monthly UXWC Jobs newsletter. The problem was, before 2020 these didn’t exist. But after a year of remote work, I’m starting to see more companies hire for remote roles. Now they’ve started, I don’t expect them to stop.
What should you look out for? Well, you want to work for a company that does remote work the right way and very few companies do. The pandemic has borne this out. You need to look for certain characteristics to avoid the ding-dong hellscape of endless Slack, email, and WhatsApp notifications, not to mention the back-to-back-to-when-can-I-pee Zoom meetings.
Sadly, as companies have transitioned to remote work they’ve largely just moved the office online. In most knowledge worker roles, it’s not uncommon to spend a full 80% of your workday communicating with colleagues in the form of email and Slack. To paraphrase Truman Capote: that’s not working, that’s typing.
The companies that are well set up for remote work all say the key to doing it well is one thing—good asynchronous communication. It means that work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone.
As Hailley Griffis at Buffer says,“It’s harder to be misunderstood when you write, it gives people time to read and think about what you said versus reacting immediately.”
The key here? It means writing and communication is a core skill for remote-first work. Everyone needs to be a great writer in an async workplace.
Research proves it leads to better, fairer decision making—and not only from the loudest voice in the room. The problem? Everyone thinks they can write, but good writers are hard to find.
If you want to carry on being a remote UX writer beyond 2021, it might be the most important skill you master. Good job you got a jumpstart on everyone else, right?
(2) GPT-3, technology and embracing the technical
I don’t buy the argument UX writers should learn to code. But a working knowledge of AI and Machine Learning could be your differentiator as a UX writer.
Take GPT-3 for example. GPT stands for “Generative Pre-Trained Transformer.” It’s a language AI created by San Francisco-based tech company OpenAI and backed by Elon Musk. It takes language from the whole internet to create super-realistic human writing like this blog post, which ended up on the top of Hacker News.
If you believe what you read in the papers then it will make writing jobs obsolete.
But will it replace UX Writing jobs? In a word: no.
As Denny Britz explains, GPT-3 shows “we’re closer to building big compressed knowledge bases than systems with reasoning ability.” That line is key for writers. Why? Because it means we have access to more data but it doesn’t mean GPT-3 can link concepts and abstract ideas. It will still make nonsensical sentences and bad or dangerous mistakes. It is not a direct replacement for human creativity.
Then why bother learning it? Because you can harness its power to bolster your own creativity and problem-solving.
Take ContentBot for example, it’s built on OpenAI. And will generate article ideas, blog posts, and copy ideas for you. Or Dover, an online HR tool that will write job descriptions. All you have to do is write a short description of what you want, pop it in the tool and it will generate an extended version.
Having a working understanding of how these tools work allows you to have more of an influence on the data team inside your organization. Most chatbots are rule-based, knowing how to write and design for AI-based chatbots will put you ahead of most writers. You’ve been warned.
(3) Tools to watch
Honestly, going to a job interview and not knowing how to use all the tools in the job description is showing up unprepared and plain lazy.
As a candidate, knowing how and why to use a tool is a skill. Knowing a particular tool is a commodity. It won’t differentiate you. So if you see a tool in a job description, learn how to use it, get the interview, and blow them away with how talented you are.
The only thing you need here is time. Most SaaS products have free trials. And resources like UX Tools make learning a new tool a small inconvenience.
So, which tools should you be learning? Well, Figma and Sketch are obvious industry leaders at this point. When it comes to the handoff between design and developer teams, Zeplin is growing in popularity as an extra layer.
- Milanote (a Notion/Evernote alternative)
- LucidChart (visual communication)
- OverFlow (user flows) and
- UX Pin (prototyping)
But if I were to learn one tool in-depth in 2021 I’d spend time mastering Notion’s capabilities for (version control, documentation, copy management, testing, and more) and no-code tools like Airtable for keeping your documentation in order.
And with UX writer-specific tools like Frontitude now available to manage copy-docs across interfaces, expect to see more tooling emerge this year specific to writing across technologies.
(4) Explosion of new job roles, but same core skills
In 2018, the most controversial argument around job roles was whether someone was a UX Writer, a Content Designer, or a Content Strategist.
Today, the fight is much more nuanced. You can spend hours arguing on Twitter whether someone is a Content Strategist vs a Content Manager. There are separate job boards for UX Writing, Conversational Design, and Chatbot Design. And the folks over at Working in Content list 24 separate job roles, all related to creating, managing, and poking content around the internet.
The point here is: it’s a good time to be a writer.
Particularly if you’re starting out in your career or have a couple of years’ experience. Most of these roles have overlapping skill sets and broadly look for a similar base of experiences to be successful. Transitioning between roles is, for the time being, relatively straightforward.
The key for UX writers will be looking beyond the browser. The job roles of the next five years will include designing for gestures and inputs beyond voice. Designing for touch, swipe, pivot, rotate, eye movement, expressions.
Don’t get too hung up with needing to be a ‘UX Writer’ for your entire career.
The roles and responsibilities will change. Today, 71% of consumers prefer to conduct searches via voice instead of typing. That number is only going to increase. You’ll have different titles throughout your career so focus on becoming an expert at designing for the discipline and industry you are in. As Scott Kubie put it in his recent UX Writing Events newsletter:
“The important thing, as always, is to align on an understanding with the people you work with about the actual roles and responsibilities necessary to get the work done.”
After all, we’re all making it up as we go along.
(5) Design ethics and staying on the right side
Ethical design is the biggest issue facing our industry and is way more important than worrying about whether to learn Figma or Sketch first. Just learn both and stop worrying.
As Mark Hurst recently wrote, “for many years, the rationale for investing in UX was [that] an easy, intuitive, or convenient UX would make the customer’s life better, while simultaneously achieving the team’s goals – usually, higher profit or lower service costs.”
This is no longer the case. The larger trend in the tech industry today – led by data-backed engineering decisions – is an entirely new way of relating to users. One that focuses on user exploitation over user experience.
In a lot of companies (not all, for sure, but we’re talking about trends here), “UX has completely flipped now, from advocating for the user to actively working against users’ interests. To boost profits, UX has turned into user exploitation.”
As a writer, your words play a big part in this debate. Which side of the aisle do you want to fall on?
You’re one voice in a sea of voices. You can only do so much. But staying informed and abreast of developments is your responsibility. Words matter and they have an outsized impact. Mark, Andrea, Harry, read them.
For a monthly round-up of the best UX Writing jobs around, signup to our monthly jobs digest. Gordon is the creator of Writing Jobs in Tech, a weekly roundup of the best writing jobs at tech companies.
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