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The Fundamentals of Writing App Micro-Copy: 5 Key Principles

May 4, 2020

by

Amir M

In 1970, Dieter Rams wrote in his 10 Design Principles: “Good design is as little design as possible”.

Back then he couldn’t have had any idea just how busy and cluttered our lives would get, but he was right! That’s why simplicity is key in mobile app design today.

But it’s not all about the visual design. Words matter too. And it’s here we’d like to introduce the concept of micro-copy.

Whether you’re new to mobile app design, or this is the first you’ve heard about writing micro-copy, this quick guide will provide the foundational knowledge to get you started.

What is micro-copy?

Take a look at any app, any digital product, any cereal box, and you’ll see that words are crucial for delivering the experience. Not just the big headlines, but the itty-bitty stuff too. Buttons, links, tooltips, error messages — it’s all part of the experience. These tiny bits of writing are known as micro-copy.

And when it comes to mobile apps, when screen real estate is at a minimum, your micro-copy needs to work hard.

But don’t worry: we’ve got your back.

5 key principles of writing micro-copy for mobile apps

Now that you’re familiar with the theory, let’s look at micro-copy in practice. Here are five guiding principles to follow when writing micro-copy for your app:

1. Be succinct.

A great person (Shakespeare) once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. We’d argue that it’s the soul of great design, too. When you’re writing for mobile design, there’s no need to use any more words than necessary. Put simply: cut to the chase.

2. Lead with the logical.

UX copywriting often involves giving instructions to the user. For this type of micro-copy, you should always front-load the instructions and give them in the order a user will perform them. For example, “Click the Save button in the Options menu” could lead to confusion. Whereas “Click the Options menu, then hit Save” spells it out clearly.

3. Don’t leave your UI copy until last.

Micro-copy can often be an afterthought; quickly thrown together at the last minute. But this would be a mistake. In fact, adding words to visuals can often raise issues you didn’t even know were there. The solution? Copy and design should develop together.

4. Avoid large blocks of text.

A user shouldn’t have to read a hundred words to learn about Silent Mode. So when you’re writing micro-copy, try not to waffle on too much — even if you think it’s necessary. Ask someone else to read it and feed back. There’s always a way to trim down at least a little.

5. Don’t forget about personality.

Another tendency with micro-copy is to write in a flat, perfunctory way. It’s only natural when you have a limited word count, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Try to have fun with the tone of voice, even with very few words: personality is everything.

Small words, big messages

If you’re feeling inspired to optimize the micro-copy in your mobile app, we hope these fundamental concepts come in handy.

And if you ever need help with any aspect of mobile app design, the Blackcreek team is always here to help explore new ideas from all angles. 

Drop us a line today and let’s see what we can create.