In design, words matter. “Copy is interface” is more true today than ever.

Most designers consciously know writing is important, but too often we only pay lip service to it. We jam some “lorem ipsum” into mocks, we hand wave about what the title of a screen might say, and we often copy/paste whatever our client sends over. Even Dan Saffer’s otherwise excellent graphical mapping of UX skills sorely underplays the importance of writing – look way down near the bottom of the diagram to find “writing” hiding away. If I drew a designer’s skills map, I’d make writing, editing, and proofing a third of the diagram.

Over the past year, I’ve worked closely with a designer at Google Ventures who loves to write. He loves to edit. And he loves to craft language. Writing is never the last thing he does on a project, it’s frequently the first. The more I’ve observed his meticulous technique, the more I've been impressed. And most importantly, when we run a user study comparing several possible solutions to a problem, more often than not his designs work most effectively because his writing is so clear.

What can you do to design as well as this amazing fellow I work with?

  • Take ownership of your own writing. Don’t throw up your hands when there isn’t anyone to provide you with finished copy.
  • Write before you start “designing.” Words should never be filler.
  • Writing is part of your brand. You wouldn’t settle for a blurry-edged logo, so don’t scrimp on tightening your writing and establishing a clear voice.
  • Micro-copy is just as important as prose. Choose your words carefully.
  • Empathize with your reader. Avoid jargon, be direct, and don’t bury the lede.
  • Edit. Edit some more. Then edit again.
  • Be consistent with your language, consistently.

We all know someone who’ll tell you that “no one reads on the Internet” in a flippant, off-handed kind of way. Don’t believe them! I’ve sat through dozens of user interviews that would wipe that smarty pants’ smirk off their face.

I know I may be preaching to the choir here. But, really, truly, make yourself a New Year’s Resolution for 2014 that you’ll give a little extra love and attention to those lovely words.