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If you’ve been hanging around the UX space for a while, you’ve probably noticed that many terms around UX writing (or whatever you call it!) are poorly defined and constantly changing. For example, the great UX writing vs content design debate. Today, multiple terms are used for the same thing, and the same term can be used to describe totally different roles. If you’re new to the field, you may be particularly confused, especially if you’re browsing job posts and trying to figure out which skills match which roles. Adding to the confusion, a new term has started popping up: UX content.
Like so many terms associated with UX writing, UX content is nebulously defined at best. But does UX content offer a potentially powerful way to unite and organize the other terms in the field? Will the term provide clarity or just be another item in the alphabet soup of UX writing terms?
Only time will tell, but I’ll do my best to explain it in this article.
What the heck is UX content?
UX content can best be understood as an umbrella term that encompasses all content professionals who work on creating better experiences for users. It reflects the broad range of activities that writers in the UX space may engage in–from button copy to reimagining flows. Writers working in this field are now called upon to have a sophisticated understanding of strategy, product development, and design, as well as top-notch writing skills. The UX content term is intended to cover all of these things and better reflect the actual work that UX writers are doing. The UX content umbrella includes the following:
This is still the most common term to describe writing that is focused on making user experiences clearer, easier, and more delightful. UX writers work across a product, using language to facilitate the user’s journey. Rhiannon Payne puts it well: “Ultimately, the UX writer is dedicated to creating a cohesive content experience that encompasses every user touchpoint within the product. When done right, this content should make the user experience more engaging, conversational, and human.”
The term is useful, and it makes a lot of sense: UX writers write for user experience. Seems pretty clear cut. Except that it turns out that UX writing can’t easily be separated from the rest of the work on the product. The clearest button copy in the world won’t help a button that’s in the wrong place, whether within the flow or on a given screen. Folks who call themselves UX writers are typically considering strategy and design, even if they don’t know a thing about pixels.
UX writers nowadays frequently advocate for what is known as a content-first design approach, where the content comes first, and the design works in service of content, rather than the other way around. (Both are of course always in service of the user.) This means that UX writers are often thinking in terms of whole products or flows rather than just filling in words. In other words, they are thinking partly in design terms.
Perhaps in reflection of this, some prefer the term content design to UX writer. The terms are often used interchangeably, so job-seekers who call themselves UX writers should make sure to look for content design roles as well, especially in the U.K. However, content design is often used to refer to positions akin to graphic design, instructional design, narrative design, and others. In short, content design is the most convoluted of the terms.
UX writing is sometimes considered a type of content strategy, and many UX writers do content strategy as well. However, the roles are more distinct, even if someone might be skilled in both (or even do both at a smaller company). Content strategists are responsible for coordinating all the content associated with a company or brand in accordance with the business goals. This can cover a broad range of activities, including choosing the types of content a brand should focus on, scheduling blog posts and social media, developing a newsletter, and more.
Copywriting and UX writing are in some ways very distinct–copywriting is focused on marketing, and UX writing is focused on helping users reach their own goals, not the goals of the brand/company. However, in reality, many of the things UX writers typically work on include aspects of copywriting. For instance, a pricing page for a subscription service should both A) be clear (UX writing) and B) show the product benefits in a way that makes the user more likely to buy (copywriting). So having copywriting skills in their toolkit is very helpful for UX writers.
What does UX content mean for your career?
We’ve talked about some of the terms under the UX content umbrella. But for people who work or want to work in the field, the terms themselves don’t matter as much as what actually happens in the workplace. So you may be wondering how the terms we’ve covered here actually impact your career. In a way, the answer might be, “not much at all.” Employers are generally looking for a skill set, not a title, so whether you call yourself a UX writer or a content designer, you’re probably looking at the same actual jobs. However, this breakdown of different terms and roles is useful for two things: helping you define what you want and helping you talk about yourself.
What do you want to do?
When you read the brief descriptions of the roles under the UX content umbrella, did any of them make you think, “that’s me,” or “that’s what I want to do”? Maybe you realized you wanted to learn more about content strategy or that your current job involves a lot of UX copywriting, even if you’ve never called it that before. Even if the terms end up shifting over time, seeing the field broken down into different roles can help you understand what you want from your career, even if the term for it changes in a year or two.
But what should I call myself?
Okay, so you’ve decided that “content designer” best describes you. One problem: a great future employer might be looking for a “UX writer.” And since “UX content creator” isn’t likely to become the dominant term any time soon, job seekers need to cast a wide net, looking for the roles they want, regardless of the title. So content designers should be looking at job posts for UX writers and vice versa. It’s also important to put any applicable term on your LinkedIn page, website, and other places potential employers might find you. When someone asks you what you do, however, use the term that feels best to you. You can also lead with that term in any brand building or other personal content strategy you do.
UX content is not yet a well-defined term. On one hand, it has the potential to become a useful umbrella for all the different ways people use words and design to facilitate user experience. On the other, it may just be more unnecessary jargon, cluttering an already cluttered landscape of terms.
And so, while terms may come and go, the underlying principles of UX writing, strategy, and content-first design aren’t going anywhere.