Reading the welcome message from Feedburner made me laugh. Logging in was a treat. Can you name the song and artist? Googling is cheating by the way! How I knew it automatically, I will never know. It was published before I was born.
Feedburner just endeared themselves to me by making my experience better. Even if my huge subscriber count goes from six to one, then back to six again the following day, I’ll be predisposed to cut them a little more slack, just for making me smile.
Flickr resurrected good copywriting with the multiligual and colloquial welcome messages. After coming out of beta Flickr also loves me (and you). Ahoy me hearties!
Dopplr has taken forth the torch and does its own great things with copy. Simple but effective:
Great copywriting. Or, more accurately, great copywriting as part of great experience design.
Copywriting as Part of the Product
Copywriting is usually associated with advertising: The selling or promoting of a particular product, service, concept or person. Hold the dogma, though. The Web hasn’t made that untrue, but it has extended the definition slightly. Copywriting is integral to user experience. It’s part of the contract between the user and the site. The copy is part of the service, not just a means to sell the service.
Once upon a time in a land too close for comfort, developers often did copywriting. They were often great developers but more often terrible copywriters. Everything looked like DOS or Terminal messages: Dry, terse and with the personality of a Dalek. Not any more, though. As designers, we should have an active hand in it, and if the project allows, work with a good copywriter. At Grow, we regularly get pedantic over language because the copy will effect the way we think and see. If the copywriter can move away from the trite self–promotion of corporate sites, or the stale techno–shorthand of developers, we’ll hopefully all think good thoughts and have our eyes delighted by what we see.
Experience Design and Narratives
Experiences, narratives, stories; simplistically, one and the same. Denna Jones is Designer in Residence at Central St Martin’s College of Art, and consultant for architects. When she introduced me to the phrase, “design narrative” over a Peking duck salad at Severn Shed in Bristol, we shared a smile together, mostly due to the awkwardness of the term. However, narratives are exactly what social websites are all about. We share, create and experience them through the medium of the site and that’s exactly what copywriting helps to encourage.
The copy adds to the narrative just as much as the typography and graphic elements do. In the same way, the copy can also add to the personality of the brand. Brand personality is a carefully cultured message. Brands have characters, and as I discussed in a previous article, the house style is integral to it. The question is whether the site or brand is a Mary or a maverick. As Mark Bernstein said in his A List Apart article on narrative:
The point is that the reader’s journey through our site is a narrative experience. Our job is to make the narrative satisfying.
One way of looking at it, is to see the narrative we design as just one amongst many. Users will create stories and experiences for themselves. The context may also be created by the audience, too, and then reinterpreted by others as part of their own experience of the site. That leaves the interface, the framework or stage upon which the narratives are played out. That’s where I love to work. Web designer? No. Art director? Maybe. Stage hand? Definitely! On that note I think I’ll go back to watching my feed play with Julio in the school yard. Paul Simon has a lot to answer for.