Microcopy: smol but mighty

The power of microcopy

I remember the first time some microcopy made it past my subconscious and made me stop and take notice. I happened to be scrolling through my apps that had updates available. I rarely read the details about the reason for the update, but today, Twitter’s leapt off the screen to me:

A screenshot of the update notes for various apps. Twitter: Not all changes are visible, but we can still celebrate them.
A screenshot of the update notes for various apps. Twitter: Not all changes are visible, but we can still celebrate them.

In the sea of “various improvements and bug fixes here was something different and for the first time I realized that a real human being is actually behind these descriptions and more than that, I felt like I could even begin to imagine who that person was. It actually made such an impression on me that I took a screenshot. This was June 26th of last year, a full four months before I even thought about pursuing a career in product design, and another six months before I knew what microcopy was or the role it plays in successful design.

Microcopy is any text that gives directions, adds context, or provides feedback to the user. In addition to helping the user understand how to use the platform, microcopy can help businesses increase conversion, clicks and interaction with their platforms. As a cherry on top, really good microcopy can provide surprise and delight moments for the user (as in the Twitter moment for me).

When writing microcopy, it’s good to keep the following guidelines in mind.

Keep it as short and clear as possible.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over my professional career, it’s that people don’t read. Doesn’t matter how carefully you crafted that email that only contains vital information laid out in a clearly organized and succinct way to make sure it’s seen, you’re always going to get an email later on in the week asking about the thing you emailed. So don’t bother with a perfectly constructed sentence that would make your middle school English teacher proud — just get to the point.

Also start with your verb. Make it action-oriented.

When asking for information, let the user know why you want it

This is How to Build Trust 101. If someone asks us to donate money to them we’re going to have some questions. Why do you need a donation? Where is the money going? Who is it serving? What is it for?

People feel the same way about data collection — especially as we live in the age of Cambridge Analytical scandals. So reassure your user by telling them why you’re asking for information or why your app needs to access another part of their phone and how you’re handling that trust.

A popup notification asks the user for permission to access their contacts and assures them that the information will be safe
A popup notification asks the user for permission to access their contacts and assures them that the information will be safe
The last line is what really sets Zenly apart here.

Give your brand voice a chance to shine

This is a really easy opportunity to add some brand personality to your platform and build rapport with your user. As exemplified in my introduction to this piece, having a little personality will make your company stand out from the crowd.

A user profile form shows an array of good success states
A user profile form shows an array of good success states
Also I love that it’s “terrific” that I live in Brooklyn! It IS terrific!

It’s easy to say, “success” but it’s more fun to hear “thanks, Lauren” and maybe it’s just me, but something about a fairly dry “that works” kind of tickles me. Who would have thought a New York government website could have personality?

But the fact that someone put it in there warms the cockles of my heart and makes me feel a little fuzzier about the New York government.

One final word of warning about branding in microcopy — it shouldn’t conflict with the first point about brevity. It’s easy to get carried away expressing yourself but this ain’t a poetry class and your user would still rather just get to the point.

I’m a Product Designer, interested in the “why” behind behavior and the stuff that makes you go 🤩 | laurendukes.com