Good uses of delightful copywriting

August 5, 2010

The half year I’ve spent building a product in the entertainment industry has taught me a lot about the wonders delightful copywriting can do for a user’s experience of a product. We the creators of the interwebs can delight with warmth, comedy, wit or even provocation.

Prior to my current project, I was a practitioner of matter of fact copywriting. If you’re not being factually correct, then you’re not being clear, right? But the fact of the matter is that often matter of fact writing can be really boring, uninviting, and condescending. And I believe that’s a fact.

What has been even more surprising to me as I’ve been adopting this new mantra towards onsite copy is the number of different opportunities to delight users that I’ve overlooked over the years. Here are some that I want to share with you:

  1. Invalid entries in text fields. You can assume that nobody likes being wrong.
  2. Interstitial pages between steps of a process. You created the step that the user had to take so it’s your job to thank them for obliging.
  3. Flash preloaders. Don’t hate on me for mentioning flash, but if you’re using it on your site preloaders are an excellent time to make users smile.
  4. Error pages. This is hard to soften, but if you get it right then you get Fail Whale.
  5. Empty containers. Take advantage of first or low-effort use cases of features to get creative with copy.
  6. Email notifications. Nothing is worse than opening up a purely informative email. Why? I get hundreds of them.
  7. Activity feeds. There’s a reason why good comics have tons of Twitter followers. Make activity feeds fun to consume. And that doesn’t mean just slap an exclamation point on the end of them!
  8. Tabs, Categories and Areas. Don’t be too nuanced here, but if you can shoehorn pleasant objects and ideas in your site’s taxonomy while still creating a strong mental model it will likely be appreciated.

This list is just a start. I also want to note that I’m very aware of the fact that witty copy can be tiresome if overused or over-experienced. So while you’re word-smithing make sure you’re always aware of how many times the user will likely encounter the copy:

The Wittiness of copy

That’s all for now.

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