Q&A with the Apple UX writing team
February 8, 2024
Writing is fundamental — especially in your apps and games, where the right words can have a profound impact on your experience. During WWDC23, the Apple UX writing team hosted a wide-ranging Q&A that covered everything from technical concepts to inspiring content to whether apps should have “character.” Here are some highlights from that conversation and resources to help you further explore writing for user interfaces.
My app has a lot of text. What’s the best way to make copy easier to read?
Ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish with my writing? Once you’ve answered that, you can start addressing the writing itself. First, break up your paragraphs into individual sentences. Then, go back and make each sentence as short and punchy as possible. To go even further, you can start each sentence the same way — like with a verb — or add section headers to break up the copy. Or, to put it another way:
Break up your paragraphs into individual sentences.
Make each sentence as short and punchy as possible.
Start each sentence the same way — like with a verb.
Keep other options in mind too. Sometimes it might be better to get your point across with a video or animation. You might also put a short answer first and expand on it elsewhere. That way, you’re helping people who are new to your app while offering a richer option for those who want to dive a little deeper.
What’s your advice for explaining technical concepts in simple terms?
First, remember that not everyone will have your level of understanding. Sometimes we get so excited about technical details that we forget the folks who might be using an app for the first time.
Try explaining the concept to a friend or colleague first — or ask an engineer to give you a quick summary of a feature.
From there, break down your idea into smaller components and delete anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Technical concepts can feel even more intimidating when delivered in a big block of text. Can you link to a support page? Do people need that information in this particular moment? Offering small bits of information is always a good first step.
How can I harness the “less is more” concept without leaving people confused?
Clarity should always be the priority. The trick is to make something as long as it needs to be, but as short as it can be. Start by writing everything down — and then putting it away for a few days. When you come back to it, you’ll have a clearer perspective on what can be cut.
One more tip: Look for clusters of short words — those usually offer opportunities to tighten things up.
How should I think about writing my onboarding?
Naturally, this will depend on your app or game — you’ll have to figure out what’s necessary and right for you. But typically, brevity is key when it comes to text — especially at the beginning, when people are just trying to get into the experience.
Consider providing a brief overview of high-level features so people know why they should use your app and what to expect while doing so. Also, think about how they got there. What text did they see before opening your app? What text appeared on the App Store? All of this contributes to the overall journey.
Should UX writing have a personal tone? Or does that make localization too difficult?
When establishing your voice and tone, you should absolutely consider adding elements of personality to get the elusive element of “character.” But you're right to consider how your strings will localize. Ideally, you’ll work with your localization partners for this. Focus on phrases that strike the tone you want without resorting to idioms. And remember that a little goes a long way.
How should I approach writing inclusively, particularly in conveying gender?
This is an incredibly important part of designing for everyone. Consider whether specifying gender is necessary for the experience you’re creating. If gender is necessary, it’s helpful to provide a full set of options — as well as an option to decline the question. Many things can be written without alluding to gender at all and are thus more inclusive. You can also consider using glyphs. SF Symbols provides lots of inclusive options. And you can find more guidance about writing inclusively in the Human Interface Guidelines.
What are some best practices for writing helpful notifications?
First, keep in mind that notifications can feel inherently interruptive — and that people receive lots of them all day long. Before you write a notification at all, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the message need to be sent right now?
- Does the message save someone from opening your app?
- Does the message convey something you haven’t already explained?
If you answered yes to all of the above, learn more about notification best practices in the Human Interface Guidelines.
Can you offer guidance on writing for the TipKit framework?
With TipKit — which displays tips that help people discover features in your app — concise writing is key. Use tips to highlight a brand-new feature in your app, help people discover a hidden feature, or demonstrate faster ways to accomplish a task. Keep your tips to just one idea, and be as clear as possible about the functionality or feature you’re highlighting.
What’s one suggestion you would give writers to improve their content?
One way we find the perfect (or near-perfect) sentence is to show it to other people, including other writers, designers, and creative partners. If you don’t have that option, run your writing by someone else working on your app or even a customer. And you can always read out loud to yourself — it’s an invaluable way to make your writing sound conversational, and a great way to find and cut unnecessary words.