Two designers composing microcopy, a crucial part of the UX design process

What Is Microcopy? And How To Do It Like A Boss

Maria de la Riva

There is so much we need to keep an eye on as UX designers. Our users (of course!), flows, touchpoints outside of our products, fonts, typography…the list goes on. One, however, that is often overlooked is microcopy. But what exactly is it?

Microcopy refers to the tiny bits of copy on products. From the label on a call to action button, to the placeholder text in input fields in forms, we use it everywhere on our interfaces. Tiny tidbits of copy, big impact on our experience.

UX Microcopy: What’s All The Fuss About?

If you’ve been on any UX or design blogs recently, you’ve likely seen a post on microcopy. It’s a hot topic these days. But why?

Even though these little clusters of text don’t occupy extensive amounts of space on our products, collectively they are a driving force and make a huge difference. Microcopy is responsible for shaping a generous portion of the user experience.

Microcopy can help us guide users, engage users, cue users into functionality, and create pleasurable experiences. Think of microcopy as a little voice leading and aiding users in their journey.

Consider the changing label on the button below by  Nicolás J. Engler. After a user clicks on it, the label changes from “submit” to “sending.” This small yet thoughtful change lets the user know the system is working in the background to process whatever the user submitted. Once the process is complete, the label changes again from “sending” to “done.” A fantastic example of how microcopy can inform, delight, and guide the user.

An example of changing microcopy on a call-to-action button

How To Write Good Microcopy

Not all microcopy is created equal and you will find some painful examples out there. Good microcopy is:

  1. Compact
  2. Aware
  3. Charismatic

Let’s look at each characteristic in a bit more detail.

Good Microcopy is Compact

Not just physically but also in how it is written. Good microcopy is concise. It’s not wordy, it’s not lengthy, it doesn’t ramble. It is clean, simple, and goes straight to the point.

Good Microcopy is Aware

The small strings of text and words we include in our products need to be aware of how they shape the experience and what that experience is. It needs to be mindful of the product and user goals, and understand its purpose in helping those be accomplished.

Good Microcopy is Charming

Compact does not equal boring. Good microcopy should be charming. It should be delightful and clever, making the experience all the more pleasurable and engaging.

Nailing Good Microcopy in 4 Simple Steps

It’s not uncommon for a UX designer to wear many hats. Photo editors, master typographers, brand specialists, visual designers, and maybe even a sous-chef—we do it all. Be prepared to be called upon to write microcopy too.  

Although the thought can be intimidating, with clear direction, nailing good microcopy should not steal your sleep. Here are a few tips on how to get your microcopy to be compact, aware, and charming.

1. Define a voice

Before you begin to think about all the little nooks you’ll tuck your clever microcopy into, you’ll want to define a voice for it. What does it feel like? How does it sound?

Think of at least 3 adjectives to describe your microcopy’s voice and use them as a northern star as your write. Keeping them in mind as you write will help keep your microcopy consistent.

2. Keep it casual

Long gone are the days of rigid and cold products. These days, apps and websites don’t sound formal or serious—they are friendly and relaxed. Your microcopy plays a huge role in communicating this feeling, especially during portions of the experience that can make users uneasy, like error messages. Try to remain conversational in your writing, open, and inviting.

An example of microcopy in the search field, as used by Airbnb

One of my favorite examples of microcopy popping up everywhere are suggestions in search fields. Rather than using the classic “search” label in them, products are opting for creative suggestions.

In the shot above, Airbnb suggests a location, Costa Dorada. The word choices feel relaxed—they opt for a simple and friendly “try.” This string of words quickly tells the user what to do with the UI element and who knows, might lead someone straight to a new, exciting location.

3. Keep it clear

Good microcopy speaks your user’s language. Try to use everyday, simple words users will be familiar with. Talk to your users, get to know how they speak, learn their jargon, and model your microcopy on them.

Namika Hamasaki keeps the labels on the two buttons in her pop-up straightforward and simple. The labels are fashioned using everyday language, easy for anyone to understand.

Microcopy in action: An example of simple labelling of call-to-action buttons

4. Be Helpful

Remember, good microcopy helps guide users. Whenever you jot down a sentence or label a CTA, make sure it is helping users get somewhere and not creating a dead end inside your product.

Emmanuel Torres makes it super easy for users to create strong passwords. He sets a strength meter right below the password input field that lets the user know how effective the password it. Below, he lists out the 3 main characteristics strong passwords on the product should have. These small words make password selection a piece of cake.

Microcopy in action: An example of microcopy used in the "create password" field

And just like with all things UX, test your microscopy on users. This will help you measure its clarity and make sure it resonates with your audience.

Happy micro writing!

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Maria de la Riva

Maria de la Riva

UX/UI Designer

Maria de la Riva is a UX/UI Designer digital nomad. For the past 4 years, she’s worked with online education startups, like CareerFoundry, mentoring and writing curriculum content. Currently, she is Head of Product at Iguama Inc., a startup developing the technology loyalty programs need to help their users redeem points on online retailers. Maria is an avid diver and sailor.