Freelancers, agency workers, and temporary UX writers all face the challenge of coming to grips with company values and project goals quickly. A well-formulated brief can make a huge difference—both to the success of the project and to everyone’s general well-being. Here’s what we have learned from creating briefs for our Academy students.
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In our UX Writing Academy program, students have a chance to join an industry project at a real company. It’s the last step of an intense 6-month course and takes 4–6 weeks.
As you can imagine, we need to prepare full briefs to help the students get going in the best possible way. In August–October 2021, we embarked on our most ambitious project so far. Ten highly motivated students set out to help the Israeli unicorn startup Hibob get going with UX writing.
In this post, we’ll explain the step-by-step process we used to set up the project brief, including how we went about adjusting the goals after initial UX research.
The pros and pitfalls of a good brief
Defining the scope of a UX writing and content design project is a huge challenge for any product team, freelance writer, or agency.
On the one hand, people need clear instructions to feel comfortable in a new project. On the other hand, we don’t know what we don’t know—and a lot of unknown knowledge tends to be revealed once the project kicks off.
In the early stages of a project, we’re bound to uncover information that we didn’t have when we created the brief. This means that we have to keep an agile mindset and be prepared to repurpose and change direction. This is exactly what happened in our project for Hibob.
Step 1: Gather background information
What is obvious to people in a company is not obvious to the rest of the world.
Many people in tech suffer from the curse of knowledge. It’s so easy to take insider knowledge for granted and forget about the perspective of everyone else. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had product managers throwing out cryptic Jira tasks without enough explanation.
When setting up a brief for a UX writing project, it’s a good idea to include information about the company, the team, and the project. This holds true even if it feels obvious and you think that everyone knows it already.
As Don Miguel Ruiz said in his book The Four Agreements, “Don’t make assumptions.”
What kind of information do we need? Every project is different, but here’s a list of things we find useful in most briefs:
- Introduction to the company and the team, contact details to our main contact person, mission statement/values
- A list of main competitors with links to their public websites
- An overview of the main target group(s) and/or clients
- Links to existing UX research, personas, content style guide (if available)
- Project overview and goals
- Information about research needed and other project tasks
- Preliminary schedule with deadlines and expected deliveries
What’s the most important point in this list? It depends, but one thing is worth more attention than the rest: the project goals.
Step 2: Set project goals
What would make your UX writing project a success? Many companies use something called objective and key results, or OKRs, to define their key goals.
I first read about it in the book Measure What Matters, and it can be great for setting up goals for UX writers as well.
Hibob’s initial idea for this project was that the students would work specifically on a content design system. We came up with this goal statement:
“The ultimate goal of this project is to incorporate content guidelines and components into Hibob’s existing design system. The idea is to have a fully integrated content design system that can be used by designers, writers, and other stakeholders.”
This was the starting point of the project, and it made perfect sense at first.
As we started thinking through all the things the students had to do to get there—research, content audits, user flows and language consistency checks—we realized that we needed more specific goals.
Ideally, a project will have tangible goals like:
- Increasing the completion rate of this process by 5%
- Creating a content design system wireframe
- Reducing churn by 3%
- Creating a content audit for a specific problematic flow of our interface
Instead of a super-ambitious vision, define smaller goals that you can achieve by the end of the project. There’s no harm in having a vision, but it really helps to break down the work into more manageable chunks.
We identified specific research tasks and eight flows plus messaging tasks (error messages, notifications, and transactional emails) that the students could work on. The research included content audits, conversation mining, competitor research, and interviews.
Step 3: Adjust your goals if needed
What happens when you learn that the brief and the scope of a project need to be adjusted after initial research?
Well, you need to adjust your goals.
In the case of Hibob, we had a few surprises once the students started digging into the flows after their initial research. One of the flows turned out to be considerably bigger than the rest, taking up around 250 (!) rows on our spreadsheet audit.
To narrow the scope, we created a poll for Hibob’s team to understand which flows were their highest priority.
The poll revealed that the most complex flow was the most important, closely followed by a couple of other flows.
So we decided to allocate three students to the big flow, while the rest of the students focused on a smaller flow or other tasks. We ended up with three teams:
- Team 1: Three students who tackled the most complex flow
- Team 2: Three students who tackled smaller flows
- Team 3: Three students who focused on error messages, notifications, and transactional emails, respectively
We also had one person who was tasked with gathering content style guide input from each team.
Making adjustments in the project in this way gave the project much more focus and direction. Once the tasks were clearly defined, we made way more progress.
While we had to abandon the initial vision of a fully integrated content design system, we could deliver a comprehensive research report, a document with content style recommendations and guidelines, and new copy for the revised flows. Not bad for a project of less than two months!
If you’re currently about to start a UX writing or content design project for a complicated product, don’t forget to write a brief and reflect on the project a bit.
Be sure to set up a general project overview and define your goals. And once you start, don’t forget you can always adjust if need be. It’s not a bad thing!
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