Here’s a list of things that were previously excruciating but no longer are because I own an iPhone:

1. Waiting in the doctor’s office

2. Waiting for my girlfriend to get ready before leaving to go out anywhere

3. Meetings that are inefficiently managed or a complete waste of time

4. Waiting for long periods of time on subway platforms

5. Finding venues in the city

6. Awkward conversations with strangers

7. Online banking

8. Quickly securing dinner reservations on the fly

9. Managing shopping lists

10. Following threads of text messages

There might be more, but these 10 were on my mind today.

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.

Pogo sticking in websites

If your user is doing this, you're doing something wrong

Good user experience designers will avoid pogo sticking like the plague. Pogo sticking is when the user is presented with an array of choices, does not have enough information to make a decision or understand a concept so they have to systematically explore options and return to the array of choices until the desired option is found. Click the first option, back to the array. Click the second option, back to the array. It’s a terrible experience, but users experience it all the time. Sites that have been particularly vulnerable to this are banks and e-commerce sites. Joshua Porter wrote an article on UIE celebrating The GAP redesigning their e-commerce experience to combat pogo sticking behavior.

Spinning plates user experience

If your reader is doing this, you're doing something wrong

But I have a feeling that pogo sticking is taking on a new, equally displeasing form in content creation and consumption. I call this monster plate spinning. I find often that when I’m reading a blog post I have to balance several different blog posts simultaneously because the content constantly references links to other pages and sites that contain prerequisite knowledge. My reading experience is completely interrupted and my comprehension is far inferior, yet I can’t help but open up the links in several tabs. I’m too curious about the information I’m missing. One of the following things needs to happen for my reading experience to improve:

  1. Websites should adopt footnotes, much like what I’m used to in a research paper. This has been written about on several occasions by usability experts.
  2. Content creators should appropriately summarize the content of a crucial outbound link so that I can choose whether or not I need to open it.
  3. Content creators should rapidly adopt a currently nonexistent tool that would allow them to easily show a preview of outbound link content that specifically focused on the information necessary to understand the remainder of the content in focus. Existing outbound link preview plug-ins are horrendous and peppered with distracting advertisements.

Am I alone here? Please post any comments, ideas, reference links or tools.