This will be an ongoing series where we interview a different person each month and discuss how they got their start in the UX field. We hope that this will shed light on what can seem to be a mysterious process and also showcase the varied paths that aspiring UXers can take to find a position in the UX field.
Today’s UXer: Meg Long, Content Designer.
I got started in UX in 2018 when I was working for a small start-up that made mobile games. Since then, I’ve written content for branding agencies, e-learning companies, and other website projects. I currently work as a Content Designer for Wells Fargo.
1. What are your background credentials? Did you take any courses to prepare you for a UX role?
Funnily enough, my education background is not even remotely related to UX: I have a teaching degree and taught secondary school for eight years before I decided to switch industries.
But, I will say, that teaching lessons everyday is great practice for UX writers because if something in my lesson or directions was unclear, the classroom would delve into chaos.
Which is not what any teacher wants to happen. I learned the hard way how to write more clearly and concisely so that my students could learn without confusion.
Now, I did some light web design and copywriting on the side while I was teaching.
I helped a few friends build websites and did some marketing copywriting here and there.
When I switched industries, I actually got hired at the mobile game startup as the HR coordinator, not the content person. But I was lucky in that it was a small, tight-knit working environment and I was able to help them with content tasks as well and eventually transition into writing content full time.
Once I was responsible for the writing tasks, I educated myself as much as I could through UX workshops, through newsletters, through joining communities and discussing topics with other writers. I learned wherever and whenever I could.
I still do!
2. What sort of lessons did you learn in your early days of UX writing?
Always work with developers and designers in tandem when you can. Because I was so new to UX and programming in general, I would make suggestions but then get pushback because of the limitations that existed in the programming that I didn’t know about.
So, I ended up asking a lot of questions about how the game engine functioned and what the developers could or couldn’t do within the parameters of the program.
We built up a rapport and began to bounce ideas off of each other whenever the UX microcopy needs would come up.
I learned to say “Can you do this?” rather than “You should do this.” And that really made a huge difference in how my role was received. They viewed me as a partner, not a disrupter.
And while the developers were teaching me about programming, I tried to make sure they understood how language choices affect users and usability.
UX does not get built in a vacuum, neither do the words we write. Teamwork is imperative to make better products for users.
3. Are you full time, part time or do you work freelance? How do you find UX jobs?
I am currently in a full time position but I do and have worked part time freelance gigs alongside of that as well.
Other than my first content job, I’ve found every other opportunity through LinkedIn or through the Microcopy group on Facebook. I’m active on LinkedIn regularly.
I try to connect with other UXers and content people.
I keep myself open to opportunities because you never know what might land in your lap one day.
4. When or how did you end up making a full transition from a previous or different role into UX writing?
So, technically I was in HR at the startup, but I was also the go-to person to edit pitch decks and the odd blog post or email.
I began doing more content development across the board because I was fast and I was good at it. (We also didn’t have another writer on staff so all of those things ended up getting pushed to me.) Luckily, I was really into it and started researching more about content related roles.
Then, about the same time that the company started building their mobile games, I stumbled upon UX writing and joined the Microcopy group on Facebook. I got really into UX writing and theory and when my company needed tutorials for the games they were developing, I wholeheartedly volunteered to help.
After that went really well, I became the unofficial person for all word-related endeavors in the games until finally, I switched from HR and became the official content developer.
5. How did you get your first UX project? What was it? How did your team receive your work?
My first UX project was a tutorial for a mobile game that was a 4 person version of tic-tac-toe.
It was a lot of fun breaking down the familiar concepts and having to explain something fairly complex in a really short amount of words.
It was a good challenge because I also got to use some of my teaching background since I’d written directions for classroom activities hundreds of times.
It was a great introductory project to UX writing and I’m really lucky that it worked out that way.
Like I mentioned above, the team was really open to my work because I also made sure to take their suggestions into account.
Not everyone can be a writer but everyone is a user and as such, they can offer edits or suggestions that I might’ve overlooked.
They were also really happy that someone else was taking care of the words and making sure that the tutorial was easy for everyone to understand.
I’m sure that I made some extra work for them from time-to-time by suggesting more popups with less text but overall, we worked really well together.
6. What has been your most challenging project? Or what’s the most challenging aspect of your projects?
I think the most challenging projects are the ones that push me outside of my current limits, not just with skills but with words.
Usually, it’s because the client requires certain voice and tone parameters that I might not be used to.
I went from a game company to e-learning companies that were writing trainings for onboarding enterprise employees so there was a big tone shift I had to adjust to.
There were a lot less chances to have fun with the words. But once I got used to it, I learned a valuable lesson.
That not all UX writing is fun in tone and that the majority of it is to serve a very specific purpose for users.
Once I realized that, it changed my perspective. I didn’t see the writing as boring anymore but rather as having its own challenges and I had to learn how to meet those head on.
After that, the writing became fun in a different way for me but just as rewarding as writing light, entertaining game microcopy. The clients that UX writers work for in general are usually going to be varied and it’s important to recognize that all writing has it’s unique challenges and each client will have different goals and tone in mind.
Plus, it’s universal—no matter the tone or brand, every UX writer will have to juggle that balance between client stakeholders and product users. And that’s the other biggest challenge of my job.
7. How do you go about setting up your portfolio? Do you have any tips for resumes?
The dreaded, scary portfolio!
Mine has gone through many iterations. When I first started out, it was screenshots on a templated Word doc that matched my resume.
Then for a while, I uploaded screenshots and sample documents into a Google drive. And then eventually, I started putting them online in a more web-friendly format. I think the most important thing is to showcase your range (if you’ve done a range of projects).
If you’re new, that’s totally understandable. Focus instead on how you solved problems for the client or project, who you worked with on the team, and what your contributions were. (You can always find great examples of portfolios here.)
My resume tips are pretty standard: keep it up to date, keep the formatting simple but have some flair somewhere (we are considered designers after all.) In my experience, the most important thing is to list out your skills near the top or somewhere easy to find on the first page.
And I don’t mean skills like “organized” or “team player,” I mean skills like programs or apps you can use.
As a former HR person, the first place I would look was to that list to see which programs or applications the job applicants were fluent or functional in.
Hiring managers will give that list to HR so they know what to look for. Make it easy on them and put all your relevant skills on that first page.
8. If you offer your services outside a full time job, how do you set your freelance rates? How do you find freelance clients?
This is a really tough question as rates tend to vary based on experience and project lift. Some writers charge a flat rate for the project, others bill hourly. I generally bill hourly.
When I first started out, my rate was around $25 an hour. As I got more experience, that rate went up. Depending on the client, I might charge double that.
Now, sometimes I might adjust the rate to a lower number if I really want to work on the project but I know the client doesn’t have a big budget. In the end, it’s your time and your expertise.
Ask for what you think your time is worth and what YOU are worth. UX writing skills are specific and not everyone’s got them.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a high rate. If they refuse and you still want the job, you can always negotiate. But we deserve to be paid as the content design experts we are.
9. How do you stay up to date with UX best practices?
I mentioned the Microcopy Facebook group earlier but it’s such a great place to have discussions with other writers.
They’ll bring up examples of good and bad UX and we all rant about what we love or hate. People always bring up angles that I might overlook so I really love that about the group.
I also follow a lot of fellow UXers on LinkedIn and I’m always on the hunt for workshops or articles that focus on a particular topic.
There are also a TON of UX and various writing newsletters that clutter my inbox but every single one is worth it. I highly recommend: UX Writing Events (updates and events in the UX community), the UX Writers Collective (which sends great content posts and job posts), Ann Hadley (who’s more on the marketing side of things but writes very compelling copy and has great anecdotes for all writers), Very Good Copy (which has great articles and interviews for writers across the spectrum), and of course, our very own UX Writing Hub (great for industry developments and advice!)
10. What is some universal advice you’d like to give to aspiring UX/Content writers?
Never stop learning. It may sound cliche but it’s the truth of our job. UX best practices are always changing and updating in order to be inclusive to ALL users so there is always something new to learn.
It might be about research, or localization, or accessibility, or diversity.
Our job is to be inclusive and the best way to do that is to learn from everyone possible.
From your teammates, from strangers, from people who look different to you, people from across the globe.
Never stop learning from as many different people and places as you can. Our title might say “writer” but what it should say is “includer.”
We need to include and incorporate all users into our words, into our designs, and into our products. And the best way for you to do that, is to never stop learning.