A woman is using a laptop and writing in a notepad at an office desk.
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Why UX writing needs people ‘who care what words do, not just what they say’

20 Jan 2020

We talked to Jane Ruffino about her upcoming online course in UX writing at Berghs School of Communication in Sweden.

Do you see writing and content strategy as technical skills? Both have often been labelled as purely creative pursuits, according to Jane Ruffino, but that needs to change.

Ruffino is based at the Berghs School of Communication in Sweden, where she’s currently prepping her upcoming course in user experience (UX) writing. If you haven’t heard of UX writing, you wouldn’t be alone – it’s not a new field by any means, but it is one that’s beginning to garner more attention.

Essentially, UX writing involves crafting the text that appears on digital products such as websites, apps and more, working with design teams to create ways of interacting with or informing the end user. And although Ruffino wasn’t always on board with the name that has been given to this field, her mind has been changed in recent years.

“You know, UX writing is new and not new. A few years ago, I used to get annoyed at the term, because I felt like it was the name given to a role that a lot of us had been doing for a long time,” she said. “By renaming that role, I felt like it was just trying to avoid apologising for leaving writers out of the room for so long.”

Ruffino now sees it in a different light – as a way of “getting legitimacy” for the field, which people working in it “should have had all along”. But an issue persists, she emphasised, with people not realising that this seemingly new set of skills is something they may have actually been drawing on throughout their writing careers.

“You don’t want people to think that it’s this totally new thing that you can’t figure out, when all of us doing it have already had to figure it out for ourselves,” she said.

What is UX writing?

As an archaeologist who has worked in areas such as content strategy, documentary making and journalism, and who is now doing a PhD, Ruffino is well acquainted with diverse skillsets and career leaps that “might not seem natural”. But being able to own the skills you have is something she places great value on.

“I call myself whatever people need me to say that I am to get into the room I need to be in, and I’m not really that bothered,” she said.

Woman with dark hair and a black shirt sits against a white wall.

Jane Ruffino. Image: Berghs School of Communication

But what does a UX writer do? “I think a lot of what we are is translators,” she said. “Maybe you don’t have the depth of science expertise in specific areas, but you have the mindset to ask the right questions. And then you have to translate it for the right audience.

“What we should have is the curiosity and the brain – the designer mindset – to ask the right questions so that we can translate what somebody is trained to do with a product to the audience.

“It’s a lot about like storytelling and sequence and how you put things together, and making sure that you’re showing, not telling. It’s similar to any format where you have to bring people through an experience and do a lot of showing, telling and standardising voice, tone and style.”

Who is suited to UX writing?

According to Ruffino, the most important attribute of a good UX writer is caring about “what words do, not just what they say”.

“My aim is not to make everybody become a UX writer in name, but to be able to do the UX writing that they need to do, whether they want to search for a new job as a UX writer or apply as a conscious designer.

“So, I think a lot of the people who take this course will already be doing UX writing, but need some more frameworks. You have people with these really interesting mixes of backgrounds. And so everybody has some of the skills. Nobody has all of the skills. And that’s okay.”

That’s why she’s excited for her eight-week online course. Many people working in marketing and content management roles have been putting the skills relevant to UX writing to use for a long time – they just haven’t been able to put a name to them. But that part is crucial, Ruffino emphasised, because it gives people the confidence to “see themselves as designers and feel like they can really own that, in whatever way that they need to make that meaningful for themselves”.

‘Giving people a story’

Through her interactive course, Ruffino wants to help people who have been “underestimating their existing skills”. Through empowering writers to identify and utilise those skills, she wants to “advocate for writing words as part of the experience, as opposed to words as an afterthought, which is how a lot of organisations deal with language”.

“I think that it’s important for people to have what they need to be included in an industry that has traditionally not included writers. I think some of this is about giving people a story they can go back to their organisation with,” she explained.

That, she believes, is how we’ll get past the idea of design being entirely visual. “But it’s not,” she said. “It’s about how it works. And it’s about how people experience it. And words are just as important a part of that as anything else.”

How can you get involved?

The course kicks off on 10 March, with lessons running weekly and costing €2,100 in total. The sessions will be interactive online classes with assignments to complete between lessons, averaging a commitment of about 10 hours a week. Ruffino will be reachable for help and support, and she has career guidance modules planned for the students, too.

Head of programme directors at Berghs, Marie Alani, said that the school is “always tracking the latest trends and demands within the field of communication”, and so this course offers “new tools that participants can apply immediately”.

‘Nobody has all of the skills. And that’s okay’

Ruffino’s hope for graduates of the course is that they’ll be able to “level up the scale” to “apply for a new job or promotion”. “Or justify a promotion or complete a project you’re already doing, but you weren’t quite sure how,” she added.

“We’re coming from underrepresented groups into this field. It’s like the ‘hot new field’. And so, it’s very easy to feel like you don’t belong. So you don’t want people to feel like they can’t apply because they don’t feel like they’re going to belong.

“If you love what words do, then then check out the course. People with weird skills will be welcome!”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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