Drop-shadows Don’t Fill Shopping Carts

I think Zeldman has a fantastic point here:

Drop-shadows don’t fill shopping carts. Aside from a few buttons and arrows, nearly all of the work of a user interface is performed by words. Yet most designers don’t question the text their clients dump on them, and most budgets don’t cover editing and writing. Learn how word choice can drastically improve design, branding, and usability—and how to edit web content effectively, even if you’re not a writer.

Source: An Event Apart San Fransico 07 (teaser text)

Very interesting and often overseen. I’m spending a lot of time — especially when working with prototypes — to explain and work with words. A work I’m not very good at, but is often essential to achieve a better common understanding of a web application’s functionality.

At some projects and workshop, I see that we’re using much time going into the little details and try to come up with wordings and names. It seems there is a clear connection here from copywriting to functionality. Often, a clear and concise functionality can be born out of clear and concise text, as it’s important that features are easy to understand (and thereby sell).

In the projects I am involved in, copywriting is often the last link in the chain, and for larger projects done even after we deliver the final application to the client. It’s hard to get high-quality of a preliminary user-test while working on the project, so you get less quality control.

Four years ago I worked on a project where one of the participants from the client was a copywriter. We had to start from scratch (defining user need and project scope as we moved along). During that process I realised that the ideal web project starts with a copywriter. He was the one that could bring our thoughts to consensus and help us clarify so that features would make sense to an end-user.

Of course, you often hear this point not only with a copywriter, but also other key people involved in larger projects:

“From the very start, we should involve the designer / usability specialist / architect / business analyst / database administrator / call-center / etc.”

That thought might be appealing, but for me, it’s more important to keep projects as small as possible for as long time as possible. To do that, you probably don’t want a database admin or call-center representative (although i have heard arguments for that as well). You probably want more holistic people, people with more hats.

One more thing I learned from that project was: User test early and often. During a 7 week period, we made about 20 iterations. User-testing and copywriting where driving forces, and end-users often forced us to rethink what functionality to build.

That’s why the teaser to Zeldman’s talk is so interesting: Words are the primary building block of your web app. My lesson from this: Start your project by taking words seriously.

BTW. Zeldman and Eric: Please plan “an event apart” in Europe soon!

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3 Responses to “Drop-shadows Don’t Fill Shopping Carts”

  1. Lars Jacobsen Says:

    Interesting – especially when you combine it with the eye-tracking results (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/banner-blindness.html) that shows the people fixate naturally on text.

    Another thing – to often webshops just copy the text from the products page of the manufacturer, and often without translating it. That probably hurts just as much as choosing the wrong colour on the check-out cart :-)

  2. Eric Meyer Says:

    We’re definitely serious about doing AEA in Europe, though we can’t say when and where (because we don’t yet know ourselves). My fervent hope is that we’ll be in Europe in 2008!

  3. Daniel Szuc Says:

    We see a lot of bad copy on web sites in Asia, basically marketing materials just uploaded directly onto the web channel without any thought for the overall “conversation” the user wants to have with the company. Web content is seen as the “odd man out” for web site developments. What web sites have you seen where care is taken in writing good copy? I quite like the tone and style used on the Google site when presenting their product information. Of course Apple :) Others?