The keynote speaker on Day 2 of DrupalCon 2016 was a well-known content strategist named Sara Watcher-Boettcher. She’s been speaking for some time now about what she calls “Compassionate UX,” which she continued at this year’s DrupalCon. Her general argument: designers often find themselves designing for a “standard” person, a mental model that doesn’t include stress, trauma, painful experiences, or any kind of deviation from “normal.”
Her examples were, as usual, fantastic, and make a compelling case. In her keynote, the way she framed the discussion was through period-tracking apps, like Glow and Clue. What’s the problem, you might ask? Brought up on screen was the onboarding process for Glow – where it asked its user which “Journey” she was on – was she avoiding pregnancy? Trying to get pregnant? Looking to see when she was most fertile?
The audience laughed. Periods aren’t a freaking journey, as Sara echoed on stage. And what about a woman using the app who has a female partner? The app is built to empower women who use it; why is this app assuming so much? It’s a tracker all around, in fact – you can even record how many drinks you had the night before. But be careful! If you’re honest and tell this app you had 4 drinks last night, it will lecture you on drinking.
What. The. F#$k.
Anyway, this was all to showcase a pretty big failure to connect with an audience that clearly isn’t understood. Sara offered up Clue as juxtaposition, an app that assumes nothing and only lets users track what they want to track (and doesn’t lecture).
There were other examples, like how Facebook once told Native Americans that their names weren’t real, and violated codes of conduct (they’ve since gotten better). I strongly recommend checking out her recorded keynote, as well as reading her write-up, to see more examples.
But I want to focus on the message here – many organizations (for-profit, non-profit, and government alike) assume a great deal not only about their users, but also about their own internal ability to write copy and create language patterns that are effective and thought-through. Because, I mean, everyone can write, right? We learn that in kindergarten!
Of course, just because I know how to talk to my dogsitter when dropping off my dog, doesn’t mean I can deliver a speech to thousands of people. Writing for a good user experience is a craft, one that many (like me) have put years of work into honing, improving, and measuring. Too many assume too much about copywriting, as if it’s just this thing that each member of each department will handle when the time comes. It’s an afterthought plagued by misplaced ego and overestimation of skill. I’ve seen it many times, even lost jobs fighting against that ego, fighting against copy that is simply…bad.
Yes, we can all write. Fantastic. That also means we can offend. We can hurt. And this shouldn’t be taken lightly, brushed off, in some rebellion against political correctness. A single misstep in empathy, in considerate copywriting, can completely level a brand. It can destroy the user’s experience, and send them away from an app, a website, an organization, forever.
What we’re seeing now is the beginning of a wave. Big companies and organization have already begun leading this charge, by hiring UX writers, editors, and other writing-focused experts in order to avoid these mishaps.
But it’s more than avoidance. It’s through these bits of microcopy, through these tiny considerations over the lifecycle of your audience’s “journey” through your ecosystem, that we have the opportunity to inspire trust.
It’s not just about “compassion.” It’s about designing for as many people as you can, because, honestly – can you afford not to?