#005 – Still Untitled

The importance of UX writing

Because these days we all carry our entire lives in our smart phones, I’m certain to be in a vulnerable, emotional situation, where you should help me out – not throw me down a pit of uncertainty.

03 September 2021

Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, Italy. Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

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    Piccia Neri's face looking up to the left, with a smile and the sunlight behind her

    By Piccia Neri

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    By Piccia Neri.

    Thanks a bunch Apple, now I’m petrified

    How long was it since you last saw your family, if you live far from them?

    At the beginning of this summer I finally managed to visit Italy, where my mother and my extended family of origin live, for the first time in 1.5 years. That’s the longest I’ve been away for since the 90s, when I left the country for good.

    Even though I would probably never move back there again (too many things would have to change before I can be enticed to do that), it’s still hard to keep away for too long. First of all, for filial duty; secondly, but very importantly, because all the clichés are true: Italy is too beautiful a country and you just can’t get it out of your system so easily.

    Only a deadly virus could keep me away for over a year.

    The UX of Italy as a brand

    However, and to the point, Italy has a variety of drawbacks that undermine the visitor’s UX greatly. One of them is public transport, especially if you’re trying to get across instead of north to south. When you keep to a vertical directory, say Milan to Naples, you’ll be there in a jiffy, enjoying a great UX and telling everyone how brilliant trains in Italy are. But if you are unwise enough to deviate slightly, you’ll feel like you’re entering one of those scenes from Purgatory that adorn so many of Italy’s churches. Not the best UX.

    In this generally painful scenario, the city I’m from, Siena, is particularly hard to reach by public transport.

    Siena had its heyday in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance: and that was largely because it was on the Via Francigena, a commercial and pilgrimage route that reached Jerusalem from Canterbury via Rome – and via Siena.

    Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy

    Now it’s as if the Sienese want to make sure that only the most resilient, most determined independent travellers make it to their town: wherever I’m flying in from, getting to Siena via public transport is always by far the hardest, longest leg of my journey.

    Needless to say, Siena’s stature in the world in the 2021 is microscopic in comparison with 1347, when, prior to the Black Death (the Covid-19 of 1348), it was one of the most important, largest cities in the Western world. Full of towers, like a medieval Manhattan; a vibrant, busy, fascinating city of artists, musicians, merchants and travellers.

    But these days Siena is none of the above. So I often have to stay in the city my flight leaves from at the end of my trip, in order to avoid missing it.

    I don’t mind at all actually, in fact I love the opportunity to spend a day and night in any Italian city, because I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t have beauty and good food on plentiful offer.

    Not feeling too clever now

    Also, you may or may not know that I’m an art historian by training, so I always end up wandering around the city for hours in an ecstatic stupor.

    So much so, that this time someone found it a really easy job to take my phone from me. 

    Yes. Tipsy on the marvels I’d seen inside, mildly stunned by a bout of Stendhal’s syndrome, I got my phone stolen while sitting on the steps outside San Petronio, the main church in Bologna that you can see in the photo in the banner of this email. It was a 3-year-old iPhone XR permanently attached to battery life support, and I didn’t care about it particularly; in fact I’d been bemoaning my addiction to it in recent times.

    Anyway, if your phone is stolen when you’re travelling, there are so many repercussions, ranging from how to access your boarding pass to the absolute terror that someone may crack your bank app and steal all your money, too.

    The beginning of crap UX

    I’ll bypass the crap UX that brand Italy regaled me with in this unfortunate situation, reminding me powerfully of so many of the reasons why I chose to not live there any longer all that time ago (luckily I speak the language, hey).

    And I’ll get straight to the equally crap UX that brand Apple provided me with, instead.

    As it’s the second time this year that an Apple device is taken from me against my will, I knew what to do: immediately turn on the “Lost phone” mode. Luckily, the Apple store was at a stone’s throw. One of the assistants there lent me a device to get into my account (I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t known my password by heart) and we easily did that.

    However, it’s what happens after that is rubbish.

    First of all, there is zero clarity on what the course of action should be. Should I delete all content remotely? But what if I end up finding it? the content is more important than the phone. So I didn’t choose to delete even though that’s safest. Typically, thieves will turn your device off, and then on again once they’re far away and in a safe location. At this point, you’ll receive a notification via email letting you know about this.

    And then what?

    Then, sweet bugger-all, apparently.

    Making a very long story short, I did all I could do in the circumstances, immediately purchasing the cheapest new phone I could find (not an iPhone, then) and miraculously managing to get into my vital accounts so that I could get on the plane the next day [the UX of that is in fact a whole new topic for another newsletter]. And then I decided I’d go have dinner in a lovely restaurant that had been recommended to me, because I deserved it.

    I had a wonderful time at the restaurant and got back to my hotel replenished, restored, relaxed, and ready to face the next day.

    Until my new phone started buzzing with a series of emails – the first one below:

    Screenshot of an email from Apple saying that Piccia Neri's iPhone was found in Modena, Italy, far from where she currently was.

    That was it. Nothing else in the email.

    I kept receiving similar alerts as the thieves were making their way further south, each time they reached a new location.

    Needless to say, the peaceful state of mind I’d reached thanks to a delightful dinner was immediately replaced by a boiling cauldron of raging emotions and frantic questions.

    WHO found it?? NOT me! What do I do now?? Can I make it blow up in their face? Are my accounts at risk???


    The point is that if I’ve turned on my “Lost phone” modality, chances are I’ve either lost it or it’s been stolen.

    Because these days we all carry our entire lives in our smart phones, I’m certain to be in a vulnerable, emotional situation, where you should help me out – not throw me down a pit of uncertainty.

    What Apple could write in the email, too

    I knew my fears were probably irrational. I’d managed to change all my passwords, and the iPhone itself was protected by password and touch, too, so it was unlikely that opportunistic thieves would be able to crack it. If they had that ability, they probably would not need to be stealing phones in the first place.

    But when you’ve been robbed while travelling, you’re not rational.

    Apple let me know, very matter-of-fact, that someone had turned my phone on. Factually correct.

    But what was I supposed to do now? What happens now? Why are you leaving me alone like this, Apple???

    What about adding a little message to the bottom of the factual communication, something along these lines:

    “If you lost your phone and now you found it, congratulations! You can heave a sigh of relief and get your life back.

    If someone you don’t know found it and turned it on, don’t worry! It’s probably easier to break into Fort Knox than it is to crack an iPhone, so all your data and accounts are secure.”

    “There is nothing else you can do right now, so just wait and relax.”

    Is that too much to ask???

    NO it bloody well isn’t.

    It’s the absolute minimum Apple should do.

    But they don’t.

    So thanks a bunch Apple, now  I was truly petrified. I spent the rest of the night awake, unable to quell the adrenaline that that email had got raging inside me.

    That was the last I heard about my iPhone, by the way. Apple just basically told me “Bye Felicia!” as if I, and my loss, didn’t matter at all to them.

    Which proves that clearly, UX writing matters

    That’s what UX writing is, and that’s why it matters so greatly.

    I’m working on the last module of the UX Blueprint course, all on UX writing, and it’s become even clearer to me how much well written copy matters to a good user experience.

    Copywriting writes the words that persuade you to buy a product, say for instance, a pair of inline skates.

    UX writing writes the words that teach you how to use those inline skates.

    The skates themselves would be downright dangerous without proper guidance.

    UX writing provides the necessary guidance that leads our users to a great experience.

    UX writing is what makes the copy about your customers, not you. It shapes the UI and leads your visitors by the hand.

    UX writing makes sure that an email regarding a lost phone being turned on, also includes the reassuring words the user needs to hear at that time.

    UX writing doesn’t leave you stranded in a strange city in the middle of the night!

    UX writing lends the helping hand you need when you’re lost, in fact.

    And it often starts with microcopy. Heard of it before?

    If you haven’t, here’s a really good article you can read, written by our friend Andrea Zoellner, explaining how to get your microcopy right.

    Know thy customer: free customer research webinar

    Free webinar alert! Next Tuesday , 7 September, at 12.30pm Singapore time, Sanchita Ray, VP of Research at Alibaba Group, will give a free webinar hosted by General Assembly, titled Know Thy Customer: an Introduction to UX Research.

    Sanchita will share:

    • Best practices around some of the more common research methods
    • How you should decide on your research strategy to align with your design goals
    • Tips on how to then successfully utilise your findings to create a design that is set for success.

    There is no such thing as knowing too much about research – for sure.

    This applies to so many different fields: marketing, branding, design, and of course, UX.

    Is knowing your customer deeply from a UX perspective all that different from knowing them deeply from a marketing perspective?

    The outputs might be different, but the process is very similar.

    I’m not a morning person but I’ll try to get up at 6.30am for this!

    Hope to see you there.

    In case you missed it: Fuzzy lines or fluffy animal?

    Absolutely no idea where the fuzzy animal could be.

    Fuzzy black and white lines in a spine pattern: an optical illusion that hides the image of a fuzzy animal, that not everybody can see.

    What about you? Can you see it? Let me know! I am fascinated by optical phenomena and would love to know what you see.

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    By Piccia Neri.

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