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Writers of Silicon Valley: UX writing in fintech

Writers of Silicon Valley is a UX writing podcast featuring interviews with content strategists and UX writers from around the world.

In this episode, Patrick Stafford and Yael-Ben David take a look at some of the regulations surrounding the fintech industry which make writing for it so difficult. Plus, they explore the ultimate question: how do you get out of the customer’s way?

To listen to this episode, find Writers of Silicon Valley wherever you listen to podcasts:

This episode was originally hosted at Writers of Silicon Valley.

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Patrick:

This episode features Yael-Ben David, and she is a writer at Fundbox, which is a fintech provider in Israel. Now, Yael has been writing a lot online about different aspects of microcopy and UX writing and something I’m really impressed by her work is this constant focus on the ability to actually show ROI from microcopy. It’s really fascinating. She’s extremely smart, extremely thorough, and she has a great mindset when it comes to marrying the creativity of writing with the function and the practicality of meeting business objectives. We had a fantastic chat. Really hope you enjoy it.

Patrick:

I feel like over the past six months you have been writing a lot online about the work that you do. I’ve seen and maybe it just seems like a lot, but because you post about it. But I think I’ve seen several different blog posts from you about, you know, the work that you’re doing and proving microcopy and a number of different topics, all of which are great. And I’m wondering, is this a concentrated effort on your part to write more and to share the findings that you’re working on? Or has it just worked out this way that you’ve just, you know, found time on your hands to write these sorts of things or what’s going on? I feel like you’ve been writing a lot of really great stuff lately.

Yael:

Well, thank you very much. I think I’m writing the same amount as I’ve been writing over about the past two, two and a half years, but it might be that I’m reaching a larger audience because, you know, as you go and people like what you write, they tell their people and more people have eyes on you. So it could be that I’m reaching a greater audience and therefore it’s reaching you through multiple channels. But I think also it’s probably about finding my niche and finding where I have to contribute. I think early on when I was discovering the field, I’ve been writing about what I’m interested in and from my perspective, of course, and through the eyes of my experience. And so at the beginning, that was the experience and the perspective of a beginning UX writer. And while I like to think there was valuable content in that, I think it’s also a saturated topic. And I think a lot of people write about that and there’s a lot of redundancy. And so I might not have stood out from all the noise and now I’m more and more finding my niche. I first discovered my niche even from my very first role where I was writing for a genetics product. I already realized that I wanted to focus less on the really screenshot-worthy, viral fun stuff of the Voice of Slack and of MailChimp, that less played to my strengths. And coming from a more technical background, I started as a neurobiologist, that I wanted to work with complex products and that my strengths were more in sort of what I even considered translating from tech language or biology language or finance language to something usable. And I’ve been more and more kind of deeper diving into that. I went from a genetics product to a fintech product. I’m currently at Fundbox, which is a financial product in the US. And that might be why my voice is a bit, in the sense perceived as louder, because there aren’t as many other voices in that space together with me. That would be my theory. But thank you for noticing and thank you for finding it valuable.

Patrick:

It’s interesting what you’re saying right now in that the market or the online space for UX writing, has become a little bit saturated at that basic level. So we’ve seen a lot of stories now about people becoming UX writers and what does it mean to be a UX writer and so on. And now we’ve moved into this, I think, next stage where we’re starting to see people like yourself write more focused and specific takes on an area. And I think that even though as content designers, we need to be across everything, I wonder if we’re moving into this space now where you really will need a specialization, even within content design, which is its own specialization, whether people will need to start really interrogating their own skills and finding what they’re good at, what do they look good at and where are they going to find a place? You know, so if that’s information architecture, if that’s, you know, content testing or if that’s something else. Yeah, I think it’s going to be on people to figure out what that is in order to make an impact going forward, which is both good and bad thing. It’s bad in the sense that the bar is now rising. So it’s not necessarily as easy to get into as it once was, but it’s also a benefit because there’s so much more to learn and it’s such a deep and rich, rich field.

Yael:

I think in a sense, it might actually, in one understanding, be easier to get into the field once you identify what makes you unique. I know that when I was interviewing for my first role as a UX writer, I had zero competition, even though I had never heard of the word UX and I had never worked in UX before in my life. They needed someone who could write and someone who understood genetics. And on top of that, a native English speaker in a country where English is not the native language. So when you are so specific in what you’re looking for, my transferable skills left me no competition. And that’s really what I advise people moving into the field or people looking to advance their careers in the field is find out why you’re special, because you are, everyone has their unique individual experience and their unique value to contribute. And a unique voice is that the right company will benefit from. So it’s not just in their best interests. Like you’ll get a better job if you can show why you’re special. It’s that company that’s been looking for you, gets you. So for me, I have a writing background, my first degree’s in journalism. I’ve worked as a professional writer. I’ve also worked in a genetics lab. I can do this in a way that others can’t, even if they worked in UX writing. But I don’t think it’s because I’m so special. I say it in that way. That sounds very me focused because I think anyone can take that script I just said put their own self into it and try to identify what will make it so that they have no competition for the role. And I think that the whole field benefits from having these specializations because I think it indicates a sort of maturity of the field and a seriousness of the field and an advancement of the field, because at a certain point everyone had to be a generalist. Even today, companies aren’t giving much headcount to our field. So they can’t afford to give one role for a specialist in this and one role for a specialist in that. Maybe you will hire one dedicated UX writer who is also supposed to be designing or writing, marketing or something like that. And so you have to be a generalist. You have no choice. But as companies continue to realize the value and bring on more headcount, we then have the room to specialize and then we have the room to really level up our contributions. And I think it’s only a positive feedback cycle from there.

Patrick:

Totally. And it gets to what you just said, which is just doing some self-reflection and figuring out, OK, what do I really enjoy, what am I good at? And what can I even develop? The fact that you have this background in working in genetics. I’m always fascinated by the people who come to UX writing from other fields who have experience in other fields because it can be so broad. I mean, even on this podcast, we’ve had people who have worked on a Ph.D. Studying nuclear weapons. You know, the journalists we’ve had, you know, people who have written software manuals, all sorts of different types of people. I always love seeing that because I think, wow, what a rich and wonderful set of experiences we’re bringing, which means ultimately that makes its way into the products we make, which is great.

Yael:

Absolutely, I know somebody in marketing came to me once and asked for advice as to how to make the shift into UX writing, into product writing in general. She was coming from the angle of how can I show that my marketing writing is relevant, that I’ve had to also be in touch with my users, empathize with my users. I said, don’t look at it that way. Don’t treat your marketing writing as almost UX writing. It’s not. What you should do instead is find an app that works in marketing, just like I found an app that works in genetics. Say, look, I’m entry-level, I have some transferable skills. I want to learn about UX, but you need me and not necessarily a more experienced UX writer, because I know your app, I know marketing and that is what I was talking about before. It was a way for her to separate herself out from her competition because all the other UX writers who might be showing for that role, for that marketing app that they’re experienced writers, won’t necessarily have the industry-specific experience for that app and that will let her stand out.

Patrick:

I’ve heard from people who say similar things. They say, you know, I’ve got this experience in this industry. And it’s funny because a lot of the time people seem to be maybe not ashamed of it, but they think that it’s wasted time when it’s really not, it can be used to such a great advantage if, as you say, you use it in the right way. Yeah, as you said, don’t sort of dress it up as UX writing when it’s not. Instead, figure out where the similarities are and then find someone who could use it. I think that’s a great approach.

Yael:

Absolutely.

Patrick:

So I want to talk a little bit about the work that you’re doing now at Fundbox. This is really interesting because as someone whose work also worked in a financial services adjacent company, I understand the complexities and the often pain and turmoil that you have to go through. And I’m really interested to speak to you about the work that you did, because over the past five, six years, I guess so much of UX writing has focused on, as you mentioned earlier, things like style guides and making writing seem fun and quippy and building a brand through copy and so on, but when you’re writing for an industry like financial services, especially ones that are so heavily regulated, it becomes less about, you know, how can we make this fun and more about how can we use this and stay legal? Or rather, maybe that’s not the right expression, but how can we avoid, you know, walking into any sort of legal traps? And as a writer, I’m really interested to speak to you about just the types of challenges you’ve had to navigate when doing that. At the same time is figuring out your own strengths as a writer and content designer and how you’ve been able to sort of balance those two. So that’s a very open-ended way of saying how hard your job is and how you go about that, because it’s fascinating.

Yael:

Wow. Well, that yes, certainly working with compliance and legal when they’re really top of mind and critical to your work is something that I didn’t have to really deal with in other roles. And it’s unique. And at the same time, just like everything, I think everyone can learn from it. I guess I would start with the more sort of general big picture is the way to start approaching compliance, especially for me who had never done that before Fundbox, is get to know the people first. And that sounds kind of obvious. But when you actually sit down with the compliance director, they are a person. They are coming from their own experiences, their own history. And for example, I found out that our compliance director who goes over almost all, if not all of the copy that I write for the product, she started at our company in customer support for a variety of reasons, and that made me feel closer to her because this is not someone who has spent her entire academic and professional career in books and in regulations. She’s spoken to our users. When I started the company, she had more hands-on user experience than I did because she started in customer service. So I had this immediate respect for her.

And I think that it’s first and foremost, you need to meet the people behind the department. And I think that’s sort of a general thing that can help you, but something we forget when it comes to compliance and legal, because, you know, we just say the word compliance and legal people cringe like, oh, that sounds painful, but there are people in this who want to be working on this and they do not think it’s painful and they can help you kind of embrace it. And the truth is, I really did learn from her to embrace compliance because, I mean, I think it’s important to start off by saying that, at least in my opinion, compliance and legal are not the same thing. I feel like compliance is the one that is more interesting and collaborative in a sense with UX writing. Compliance is really there, at least I can speak about in the credit in the world of credit and payments where we are, for the customer. It’s not there to make the UX team crazy. It’s really there to protect them and to implement best practices. For example, it was compliance regulators who came in and said telemarketers can’t spam people at ten o’clock at night. I think that’s something we’re all grateful for. So sometimes, we have different means to the same ends, meaning a great example would be when it comes to disclaimers. So compliance wants there to be a very detailed disclaimer to protect the user and make sure they’re not getting into anything unknowingly. And I have that same goal. I want them to know what they’re getting themselves into. But as a UX writer, I might make the argument that long and detailed is not better because they won’t even read it. And then we have to work together, but once you realize that we have the same goal, we are teammates, not enemies. I think you really can make a lot of breakthroughs.

Patrick:

It’s interesting to hear you talk about this teamwork and collaboration because in my experience, it hasn’t worked like that, which is sad in a way, because the way you’re talking about it makes it sound like fun. You know, when you’re a part of the same team and you’re moving towards the same goal. What is the experience of working like that? How has that changed you as a UX writer? Has it changed the way you approach problems or the way you perceive things? Because it’s really inspiring to hear you talk about something that could be dry and a little bit boring, even legal and compliance, although, as you said, there are two different things. How has this changed your outlook on the work that you do working so closely with these two departments?

Yael:

I think one thing that I might have sort of already touched on is that it reminds you that you do not own the user perspective and that stakeholders all over have contributions to make. And the more people’s perspectives you include, the better you will in the end of the day, address the user’s needs. I think that’s first and foremost, just kind of helping you to set aside the ego that you should already be setting aside. But to help remind you that so many people in your company know things that you don’t know. I’m not saying go ahead and let other people write copy. You’re still the expert on the copy and you’re the gatekeeper to the product copy at the end of the day. But the more sort of advice and perspectives you take into your process, I think the better product you’ll deliver. I think as a person, I also really just benefit from learning. I have learned so much. I did not know what compliance was. I didn’t know anything about financial regulation. I didn’t necessarily want to know anything about financial regulation before I started working at Fundbox. I’ll say also that learning is fine, in my opinion, learning is fun, which is maybe why I sound excited about working with departments that I’ve never worked with before, because anything new to me is fun. But I would also say that when people think about compliance and legal, they think about restriction. They think about, oof, I can’t say this and I can’t say this and I can’t say this. But what I discovered is that when you get under the hood of it and you ask the compliance officer, but why can’t I say it, then it almost opens doors because you realize you were sort of arguing the wrong point. So you want to say something and they say, you can’t say that. And so you’re fighting back and forth about why you can’t use I don’t know of active voice instead of passive voice. And at the end of the day, like that wasn’t even the problem. I mean, I don’t want to use any too specific examples.

Patrick:

I was going to say to you, if you could provide an example, but I think you might be skirting a little bit too close to reality by mentioning one. But I can see how even the smallest details can affect user interpretation of what you’re offering, or I think people can use their imaginations on that one.

Yael:

Yeah, I mean, the point at the end of the day, and I apologize if it’s a bit harder to grasp without a specific example, but I want to make sure this is allowed on air in the end and that I keep my job. I think that the bottom line is once you understand the logic and the regulation behind what you’re being told you can and cannot say, you are then better equipped, you’re better armed to offer an alternative that will both satisfy what you were originally trying to do and the compliance needs. And you can’t do that if you don’t dig in and understand why you’re being told no. I think that’s really the point that I’m trying to make.

Patrick:

And it’s good that you mentioned at the beginning of this conversation that you really need to get to know the people of these departments as people, because if you go to these people and you don’t know them really well and you start to ask them about like, what’s the goal here and so on, it can be misinterpreted in my experience as you being belligerent. But if you get to know them and you can you work with them directly and they know that you’re an ally really in what they want to do. And you start asking them questions and you say, I’m just trying to figure out if this is like an easier way to our shared goal. Then it becomes, as you described, a much more fun exercise then, because then you’re being creative, you’re not being an annoying roadblock and just saying, you know, oh, I don’t want to do this because it’s too hard or, you know, we should do something else. Instead, you’re saying let’s find a creative way to satisfy both of our objectives, which is fun.

Yael:

Yeah, and I think it’s fun and it’s an opportunity to be more creative and it’s also productive because I’ll tell you, there are certain let’s call it a lack of a better word, mistakes that I was making again and again. Like, you know, I’ve told you, you can’t say that. I’ve told you you can’t do it. And then once I understand. OK, wait a minute. Let’s back up. Why do this? Why do I keep getting these same edits? Oh, because, and I’ll say it again, because we can only use passive voice in this situation. And now I know what I’ve been doing wrong and I won’t do it again. And I’m going to save everyone time all around again. So my process becomes more productive, more efficient, able to deliver better and faster. And the process is streamlined because I took that minute to learn and to ask. I’m so glad you mentioned ask questions because I didn’t specifically say that and I should have. But asking questions is just you’d be shocked at the or maybe you wouldn’t be, but people would be shocked at the doors it opens. We’re all working remotely. Not all, but many people are working remotely these days a lot more. I think collaboration is being done in writing. And when you just change a statement to a question, it creates sometimes such a more positive, productive, nice back and forth. So instead of, you know, let’s change this, like, should we change this? And then the person on the other end has the opportunity to tell you why maybe they don’t want to change this and they might convince you instead of simply saying, oh, I’m being told to do something, I’ll do it. And now you’ve missed out on an opportunity to optimize part of the experience.

Patrick:

Totally. I’m remembering something right now that. A former manager told me, he was a lead, and he told me that he thinks all should do, improv training, like acting, improv training, because the first rule of improv in theater is they have this rule called yes. And the idea is that if you’re doing a skit with someone and they make something up and you’re sort of making it up on the spot, you as the other person in that scene can’t then say, oh, no, we’re not doing that. No, you have to say yes and you say yes. You acknowledge what they’ve done and being that you add something to it. And he always said that you should work that way in a critique or even just asking questions. So to your point, rephrasing something is a question. I think it’s great when I get notes like instead of like, oh, I don’t like that color, you know. But what if it was phrased as what would this look like in a different color? Because even so, it’s so subtle, but it just changes the tone of the conversation. And all of a sudden you’re not being belligerent, you’re being helpful and you’re discovering together. And I’m sure that you found this as you’ve just described, you know, it just becomes a much more pleasant experience for everyone. And that personally, I feel less crappy about myself in my design decisions afterward when people sort of phrase their critiques that way. But maybe I’m just a little sensitive.

Yael:

No, no, I think you’re right. But I think in addition to simply enhancing the human experience of making the collaboration more pleasant and walking away from the screen feeling less criticized and more empowered, in addition to that, it opens the door for more contribution, for more insight, for greater participation from people with skills. And that is just something at the end of the day, will benefit the brand, will benefit the company, and will benefit the user. And so why would you not want that? It’s a win all around, right. You shift from statements and obviously that in every situation you need to also just say things sometimes. But when you can change, especially a critique into a question, it opens that door to hear the other perspective, to hear the why. So if I think you use the wrong color, but instead of saying that’s the wrong color, I say, why did you use that color? I get to hear what I have to start with the assumption that you didn’t pick it at random. And I have to start with the assumption that you have the expertise that led you to that color. And so I can now learn and I might change my opinion that it’s wrong once I understand what went into the decision. And maybe I will continue to believe after hearing why you picked that color, that it is the wrong color and we can have a more productive, more respectful conversation. At the end of the day, I will have more confidence that the user is getting the best color for their needs, regardless of if we stick with your original or not.

Patrick:

Absolutely. You know, one of the things we talked about right now is how this meeting of the user experience and legal and compliance needs can be fun. And there’s a lot of discovery involved. But I’m sure in your role, you’ve come up against many a brick wall before where you’re dealing with what can be a very dry topic. Now, obviously, your company has the word fun in the name, so it’s got a little bit more room to play there. But I’m interested to hear you talk about how you’ve perhaps been able to navigate writing for something that can be maybe not dry, but certainly when it comes to finances, people tend to have a bit of an aversion to it from a user perspective. I mean, because a lot of people just don’t really like to talk about money or even think about money in any way. How have you approached writing for a product that… it’s sort of…I guess you will expand on this, but is it like you’re convincing the user to take part? Because if I want to use, say, a dating app. Right, There’s nothing really that sort of stopping me from going to sort of give it a go. Right. But when it comes to finances, it’s something else entirely. I think there’s a stigma around it that’s hard to design around, I imagine. Have you come across anything like that in your work? And how do you delegate that?

Yael:

Sure, I think, first of all, we can all agree that all UX writers are, and UXers in general, are aiming to delight the user. The thing is, what does delight mean? So that could be giving them a fun voice and tone, if that’s appropriate for that experience in that space. But like you said in a financial app, I mean a medical app, no one’s coming for fun. So that would not be delightful if you logged into Fundbox and we started throwing you a party, that would be awkward. That is not what you’re there for. So as far as convincing, no, I would say that’s more like marketing, but also our niche in small businesses. So the main service that we provide is credit to small businesses. And it’s actually a very cool story. What happened was the CEO’s mother was trying to open a business and wasn’t able to get bank credit to get off her feet. And he said, this is wrong. My mother is creditworthy. But the algorithms that the banks are using to underwrite don’t know how to identify that. And so we built this technology that is essentially able to identify really creditworthy small businesses who don’t necessarily fit into the underwriting methods that are being used at mainstream banks. And so they’re coming to us. They want us. They need us in a sense, like they are coming to apply for money. So when somebody comes into our app, they’re relatively motivated. My job is not to get in their way. And if they are approved for credit, they land on their dashboard or in the product and now they see how much credit they’ve been approved for. The next critical step is to actually draw funds. Right, and then begin to repay them.

And what I’m trying to do, the way that I can delight them, the way that I’ve known I’ve done my job, the fun part for me is how fast can I help them get where they’re anyway trying to go? Right. They see the amount they want, the amount. This is where compliance and legal is a really important stakeholder. I don’t want to get them in there so fast they have no idea what the repayment terms are. Right. Nobody wins in that sense. It’s bad for our brand. It’s bad for their experience. It’s bad for everyone. This is not what we’re trying to do. It’s not ethical. It’s not legal. At the same time, I don’t want to frustrate them and get them there slowly because that is not delightful. So there’s a real tricky balancing act, and that challenge for me is interesting and exciting and there are a lot of metrics around it. There are a lot of objective ways to see how I’m doing. If I have my own leader board in my head and I’m kind of a competitive person, how well am I doing? Am I winning this game of making this flow, this happy flow work? And so for me, it’s not dry because I see my challenge as really making this tech accessible. Right. So if we have this fancy tech that allows us to find the creditworthy people who are not getting credit. So that’s not something anyone wants to hear about. Nobody cares about our algorithms. Nobody cares about machine learning. What they care about is: so can I get credit?

And so if I can walk them through that, if I can make our tech accessible by making their part of the deal both simple but also fair because they understand what they’re getting themselves into, if I’m able to balance transparency with efficiency. So for me, that is an exciting challenge. And that sort of translation process, am I getting through? Because a lot of the times I might think, wow, I’ve done a wonderful job. I sat down, I interviewed our fraud department, I interviewed our developers. I had a deep conversation with the credit and risk department. I completely understand the technology and I have now translated it into short, concise, simple English. And anyone can get this. And then we find that all of our users are calling support because they’re getting stuck on this one button. So I didn’t do as well as I thought I did even after doing all my diligence. So for me, that challenge is interesting. It is fun and it is rewarding because we are serving businesses who are creditworthy, who I mean, through Covid, we had really amazing feedback from users who said, you saved my business. You are able to identify that despite the pandemic, despite the plummeting revenue that a lot of small businesses saw, unfortunately, you were able to identify with your technology, that I was still creditworthy and you saved me. And that is unbelievably rewarding to be a part of and wouldn’t be possible if my UX writing didn’t make the app usable.

Patrick:

That’s exactly right. I mean, it must be a great feeling to know that you’re doing something, something meaningful. It’s great. You mentioned the word delightful and, you know, you just explained very, very well why that isn’t necessarily the best word to use. But I wonder how we settled on that. How did we settle on the word delightful when we try and talk about experiences. Why did we not settle on, you know, as you mentioned, efficient? Why did we not settle on fast? What is it about delight that UX writers and content designers are searching for? Like, why is it something invisible? Should we not be invisible to the eye? Because I’ve got to tell you, like, I, I really shy away from writing the type of microcopy that makes people, you know, want to share it on social media. You know what I mean? I would much prefer if someone sort of used the text that I’ve written and then never really has to think about it again. Maybe that’s boring, but yeah, I’ve been thinking about that lately, about how so much of the talk around what makes UX writing great is that it’s all delightful. But I mean, as you describe, that encompasses so many different aspects, depending on what industry you’re in, law, you know, what you’re writing for and what your uses want.

Yael:

I think we probably got there. I haven’t done any extensive historical research on this, but my gut says that we got there by understanding that first and foremost, the beginning of our sort of Maslow’s triangle, and product is usability. If the thing isn’t usable, that’s table stakes. The technology has to work, the button to work. The code needs to work. That is table stakes. That is the basics. But beyond that, how do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? So if you have two products that provide the same service and both apps work, how do you take it to the next level? How do you make it so the users prefer you? And I think that’s how we got to delight. We kind of said delight is the cherry on the top. It is not the first thing you need to be concerned with, but it is what you do next once you feel like you’ve achieved the usability. And now I think I touched on it before. But for me, I’m not so concerned about the word delight because I think delight means something different. And I think that that’s why it might actually be a good word choice as opposed to efficient, because delightful experiences are not always efficient. Like I kind of give the example where I could get a user more efficiently to draw funds, but that actually would not be delightful if the next day they get the confirmation email, they realize the terms that they signed up for were not what they thought they were signing up for. That is not the level. At the end of the day, that is not the experience that they are looking for just because it was more efficient. So I think delightful is a positive and broad and vague term that can maintain its meaning as the step beyond usability and at the same time be specific enough to mean what it needs to mean in each different experience and in each different app. And I agree with you, I don’t find that for me it’s as rewarding or fun or even that I’m as good at writing the kind of copy that goes viral and that people love to quote and use as an example. And I don’t by any means, it’s important to me to say I’m not dissing that copy. I’m not trying to say, it is super fun stuff. I mean, that’s great and the people who write that I am in awe of them. That is an amazing skill that I just don’t necessarily feel that I have for me. And like you, this is a different kind of delight that I find is fun and rewarding to write and that I’m better at. And I think that when we think about what we do is also delightful. Sometimes that is the most delightful experience. Like I said, I often find myself in the app just getting out of the users way. But other times it’s not true. Other times you need part of the experience to be memorable, or you need to introduce friction for the sake of an improved experience. From the user’s perspective, there are certain times where it’s important to slow them down. You know, if there’s a point of no return and this is an irreversible decision, you need them to stop and think about it. So I think I would almost come to the defense of the term delight as long as we add the caveat that that can mean different things in different contexts.

Patrick:

I think you’ve convinced me so. Well done. But I think it’s interesting, though, when you talk about differentiation, I think I mentioned this a couple of episodes ago. But the idea that software, a lot of software has really standard best practices now in terms of the components we use and the modern look that we develop. Apps usually follow the same key standards in terms of usability and onboarding flows and so on, that there are differences here and there. But mostly people understand how to use it, which is why when an app like TikTok comes along, that sort of changes a little bit of that. People are like, oh, how does this work? And writing is now the best way or one of the best ways to differentiate your brand. And so I think it’s also about software companies saying, OK, so we look like everyone else, but now we need to talk like users do. And so I think that’s why you see things like, you know, Discord or Slack, you know, really ramping up the tone of voice. Discord, especially I mean, it started as a game, but now they sort of mirrored that language in a lot of the more than microcopy. So I really think it’s as you said, it’s really about, you know, identifying with your specific users and getting out of the way. If you come to write copy about preconceived ideas about what it is that your users want, then you’re never going to win. I found that when writing for accountants, I would try and write in a certain style that I think they would want to write. But accountants are very specific and measured people, which is why they’re accountants. And so they will pick apart every single thing you write for them. And so you learn very quickly not to get too fun with them, because they sort of smack it out of  the way and get to the most efficient stuff. So, yeah, maybe efficiency for that audience is good. But as you said, every audience is different. You need to listen to yours.

Yael:

And it’s really challenging when you have so many audiences. So I can say, oh, yeah, I have a monolithic audience. I’m only writing for small businesses, but come on, small businesses, that’s every industry. That’s everything! That’s food services. That’s carpenters. That’s like literally anything you can think of, there are small businesses that are doing it. So I try to listen to a lot of customer support calls and sales calls recordings, because it’s a great way to hear how users talk and to try to identify the common language that they have. But writing for different verticals is very challenging because like you said, you want your voice, you want the way your product sounds to resonate and how do you resonate with basically every type of business owner? Every industry? And to sort of pull out what is common to our target set of businesses, those who we can best serve. I remember one time I was listening to a call and the rep was walking the user through something, I think a flow we had recently released. And there was this sort of Eureka moment and he gets to the point in the flow that he’s really been trying to achieve. He clicks. He understands. It was a really successful call. Going forward, he’s going to be able to use this. It’s going to be great for him, great for us. And when he gets to that point and goes, boom, the money’s on the way. And I was like, oh, I wish I could use boom. Like that is so amazing. You can’t say everything your users say, but you can find a lot of inspiration by listening to them.

Patrick:

One hundred percent, you know, every UX writer should be listening to support calls or even conducting them if they can. It’s interesting that you talked about, you know, you’re writing for so many different businesses because at MYOB, I ran into trouble there because I remember in a focus group, there was a piece of copy that said something inside the product about, you know, no matter what type of industry you’re in. So we understand your needs or whatever it was, it wasn’t that, but it was something to that effect. And this woman operated a cake decorating business and she said, I’m immediately turned off by that because she’s like, how could you possibly understand my business? You know, like, I understand my business because I’m an expert in doing what I do. She’s like, I make cakes for, you know, all different types of weddings and events and birthdays and so on. And so and she’s like, I understand the complexities of baking. How could you understand that? So it’s interesting to see that people pick up on the subtleties of that language. Bringing it back to what we were talking about before, rephrasing things can matter a great deal. And sometimes customers can even be offended by the things that you write.

Yael:

Absolutely. I mean, I make a big effort in my writing not to sound what you might call parenting. I don’t want to sound condescending. I don’t want to sound like I know more than you because I want to respect my user as the expert in their field, just like I want them to rely on me and respect me as the expert in our field. So I think finding that fine line between here’s what I can do for you and here’s what you know better than me is a great way to build trust and to build  a longterm relationship. It’s not necessarily how big that first draw is. It’s utilization over time that is going to really work best for them and work best for us. If you’ve noticed, a number of times I’ve mentioned that at the end of the day, the metrics that matter are the ones that work both for them and for us. We and the user are on the same team. They need our product and our product won’t stick around without them. And it’s really a synergy. And I think that’s sort of, in a sense, a mind-blowing perspective switch, paradigm switch for a lot of people. But once you embrace that the user is essentially your central collaborator, it really changes a lot. And you might have thought originally the best way to be trustworthy is to show them that you’re an expert at everything and it’s not. And I would say, you know, just like with that cake decorator, respecting their expertise is not only not going to offend them, but it will make them respect you because they see that, you know your own limits, you know your own expertise. And then in that specific area, they’re more likely to rely on you.

Patrick:

How to respect your users’ expertise, I think will probably be the name of this episode. So I think that’s a great, great note to end it on. Thank you so much for this. This has been fantastic. You know, I ask everyone at the end of the episode about what they’ve been reading lately or something they’ve listened to lately that’s impacted their work and think others may want to hear about. So I don’t know if I prepared you for this, but if you have anything that you’d like to share, please, please go away.

Yael:

The only thing that comes to mind is Kinneret Yifrah is maybe the number one, if not one of the number one, community leaders and thought leaders in our space in Israel. And she and her community pulled together an amazing resource about gender-neutral language. I think a lot of apps around the world are obviously in languages that are gendered, not gender-neutral. And, you know, I’ve run into this myself. I remember I used to struggle if I called some company and couldn’t understand from the voice or even the name, there are a lot of unisex names in Hebrew, whether the rep I was speaking with would prefer to be addressed in masculine or feminine. And I really got stuck until someone said to me, you don’t need to ask what is your name? Or you can say, with whom am I speaking? And then you avoid the issue altogether. And so they did this huge, really comprehensive, really impressive, innovative, insightful project. I think the actual project itself is written in Hebrew, but as it gained traction, more is being written. The project itself is being translated because it’s not relevant in English, but more is being written about the project in English. And if you can sort of tap into those insights, I think it has at the end of the day, relevance for all of our work and for our ability as humans to have a tolerant, inclusive existence. So I would say that’s something worth trying to read about. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.


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