This article contains swear words that some may consider “offensive”. If you can’t handle my raw, unfiltered realness, I expect you’re not handling life very well in general.

Last summer I founded my own company.

“What?” I hear you whimper in disbelief. “Founded your own company, in the middle of a pandemic?”

That’s right — while everyone else was queuing for toilet roll, baking focaccia, and making slime, I was building an empire. I wasn’t just going to walk blindly over a cliff with the rest of you lemmings. …

Harry Potter’s nasally-challenged nemesis, Lord Voldemort, is so feared that he’s referred to as “He Who Must Not Be Named” by people of the wizarding world.

Much like a J.K. Rowling character, I find myself stumbling over my words as I talk about… you know… the situation we’re all in. The, um, current climate. These strange times. *Whispers* The virus thing.

I’ve heard others do it, too. It seems we’re all living under the “Voldemort effect”, not wanting to call out a chilling reality by its name. …

What’s that weird feeling? Ah, yes. The imposing dread of explaining what I do for a living. Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

1. The Simplifier

“I’m a UX writer.”

“What’s that?”

“You know apps?”

(chuckles) “Yes, I do know apps.”

“What’s your favourite app?”

“Well I subscribe to The New York Times, I use that a fair bit.”

“Right. Well in your New York Times app, there are a lot of words.”

“Yes. Oh, you write articles? You’re a journalist?”

“Umm, no. So, for example, there’s probably a navigation menu in your New York Times app.”

“What’s that? Menus? You’re a restaurant critic?”


2. The Denier

“I’m a writer.”

“What do you write?”

“Short stories, mainly. I dabble in poetry. And I wrote a novel but alas…

“We need a voice and tone guide,” says someone at your company.

Voice and tone guides are in fashion. Monzo has one. Salesforce has one. Even Texas State University has one. You don’t have one? Perhaps you feel like the kid at school relegated to playing with ants in a dirt pit while everyone else plays on their Tamagotchis.

But just because everyone has one, doesn’t mean you need one. Consider these things before committing yourself to weeks of guide writing — and save yourself the finger cramp.

“We need a voice and t — “ “ —shh” Photo by Ocean Biggshott on Unsplash

Is there a problem?

All too often a voice and tone guide gets prescribed when there’s…

Do you listen carefully to announcements at train stations?

Me neither. The familiar voices tend to blend into the usual hum of station noise — people chatting, train wheels screeching, escalators squeaking.

But London Underground had an idea: what if we used a child’s voice?

They recorded the daughter of a station employee who warned people to “take care on the escalator”. It worked. They reduced escalator injuries by a third at Victoria station.

“Hold on”: a child’s voice reduced escalator injuries. Photo by Tom Parsons on Unsplash

So the novelty of something different rose above the familiar. For writers, designers and marketers that’s the ideal. …

Writers are motivated by the endless possibilities the blank page can afford. Writing without rules, your imagination can run riot. The image you create can be as abstract as you want. The canvas as big as you want.

So what happens when you add restrictions? Take space, for example. Now, your words need to fit inside a width of 70 pixels. Or take lexicon. No longer can you adorn your phrases with words like lexicon and adorn. And don’t forget syntax — make sure you use active voice, not passive voice.

Photo by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

Welcome to UX writing. It’s less like tackling a…

From UX wronging to UX writing: why we started paying attention to the words in our product

Bristol, England. It’s 2:00 a.m. A hooded figure, identity unknown, climbs a ladder and begins to deface the name of a store. It’s not Banksy, although he comes from the same city. He’s no graffiti artist, either.

He’s the “ grammar vigilante.”

He comes out at night to correct errant punctuation. His weapon of choice? The “apostrophiser,” a broom-like contraption for reaching the highest storefronts to add-or remove-punctuation.

I joined Typeform around three years ago as a copywriter. Copy for job descriptions. Landing pages. Signs for the toilet doors. Anything that needed words.

Then Typeform version 2 happened and suddenly…

It’s your first day on a new job. Let’s just say you’re a sous-chef at a Peruvian-Scottish fusion restaurant.

You turn up and ask to see the manager. She emerges from the kitchen somewhere.

“You made it!” she gushes. “Well done!”

“Uh…yeah. Thanks,” you reply.

“Follow me,” she says, taking you through the bustling kitchen. It smells of haggis and ceviche. You follow her into a small changing room. She turns around, a wide grin plastered to her face. “Nice following! Awesome work.”

You stand there, unsure how to reply.

“Grab an apron,” she instructs. You take one from the…

Back in 2013, Trevor McKendrick wanted to generate a bit of passive income. He thought he could cover his rent for about $600 a month. He looked at the top-ranked apps in the App Store, particularly those that sucked, and found an opportunity. Spanish Bible apps.

So he built a better Spanish Bible app, and launched it for around $5. Sales took off. He smashed his target of $600 a month — and started bringing in $6K a month.

So why did he feel so uncomfortable about it?

Because he’s an atheist.

This story first appeared in the podcast StartUp

Here’s a little test for you. Scroll down to the next line of text. Without thinking, say the missing word:

____ habits

You’re probably in the majority if you said “bad”. The two words appear together so often they’ve formed a collocation.

We tend to think of habits being bad more often than good. Biting fingernails. Swearing. Snacking on a entire bag of spicy mixed nuts while cooking. Just a few of my own that come to mind.

Bad habits have a habit of sneaking up on you. Photo by Ricardo Mancía on Unsplash

But we have good habits. And — even better — we can transform bad habits into good ones. F**k yeah. I mean…Huzzah.

Steve Howe

Content designer, short fiction dabbler, foreign language flirt. I do words and that at Shopify, Toronto.

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