Picture the scene. The team finds an important aspect of the site or app is not coming across to users and this affects their ability to know how it works. They declare it a messaging issue and resolve to add some more ‘messaging’ to clear up the misunderstanding. Only it doesn’t work.
Why won’t those pesky users read the text we’ve added?
People don’t go looking for the instructions
When we use websites and apps, we tend not to go looking for the instructions. Instead we feel our way through and make a lot of assumptions, most of which turn out to be accurate. We simply don’t go looking for text which might be trying to tell us we’re mistaken.
If your design looks like something your users have seen before, then they’re likely to assume it works in the same way. They won’t necessarily check for things to prove themselves wrong.
The extra text you’ve added goes ignored and the problem remains.
It’s a demonstration issue
In my view, we should never look at things as being messaging issues. Instead it’s better to think about them as a demonstration issues. The design isn’t demonstrating the thing you want users to be aware of.
Sometimes extra or different copy might be involved in the solution. But if you approach the problem thinking you have a messaging problem, then the only solution you’ll come up with is to add more text.
Is this a shoe shop?
When you see a shoe shop, you tend to be able to recognise it as such without much need for messaging on the part of the shop’s owner. It’s usually on a street with other shops, has the appearance of a shop and has a lot of shoes in the window with prices on them. These things demonstrate what it is. There’s little need for a sign saying ‘this is a shoe shop’.
Examples of demonstration in design
Example 1 — TripAdvisor
This is how TripAdvisor displays hotel results at the time of writing. You can see that the hotel here costs £82. Along with some key details about the hotel, TripAdvisor devotes quite a bit of space to telling you that you could also get the room for £82, and also £82, as well as £82 and there are also 6 more deals from….£82.
When you know how TripAdvisor gets its prices then this design can seem a bit pointless. However it’s a rather important demonstration of how TripAdvisor works. It is telling users that it has searched a bunch of websites and compared the prices for them.
Trying to message this fact would be a waste of time.
Example 2 — Preply
The image above is the homepage of Preply at the time of writing. In my opinion, there are numerous elements to the design which combine to demonstrate the company’s offering and yes, copy is part of that.
First is the main image. There are two people talking to one another on a video call, so the offering has to be something to do with that.
Then there is a strap-line about online tutors and the search button says ‘find a tutor’ on it, rather than simply ‘search’. So far we can see there are video calls happening and there is a search for online tutors. The picture is building up - it’s about finding online tutors.
There is also a grid, listing different languages. Underneath each language is the number of tutors. It is telling the user “we have loads of tutors on our system” rather than devoting a paragraph of text to explaining it.
So it’s online tutors you talk to on video calls and judging by the grid they are language tutors and there are thousands of them to choose from. And that’s the proposition demonstrated, without a passage of text devoted to the explanation.
Re-framing the problem
When someone in your team suggests there is a messaging problem in the design, try to re-frame it as a demonstration problem. You might be more likely to resolve it if you do.
Read some other stuff I wrote
If you liked this post then read some more…
- The UX of stamping loyalty cards
- The power of the big green tick
- Design guidelines for mobile date-pickers
- Getting real about delightful design
- Cognitive interviews for user research
- Moderating user research with Zoom
- Communicating UX issues with comics
- Understanding sampling bias
- Usability test tasks to avoid