The pen is mightier than the form

We’ve been thinking quite a bit about language recently here at Wordsun, and its role in creating a strong user experience for our site visitors. Like lots of web development companies, we like to think we know what makes a site appealing to our visitors. And like many web development companies we’ve spent hours tweaking page layouts, designing icons, and throwing a whole host of bells and whistles in there to dazzle our clients. But there’s a risk that we’re all overlooking some of the more fundamental aspects, and that the key to a decent user interface is not just a few well-styled pixels, shiny logos and gradients, rather it comes down to the language we use.

Words really do matter when it comes to user experience. As designers, we want to engage our visitors – to encourage them to enter into a dialogue, and impart useful information. Flat, uninspiring text can at best expect a flat, uninspired response. As any good interviewer will tell you, the way to get the best response from your subject is not to bombard them with questions, but to create a two-way dialogue. The same theory can be applied to user interface design.

Plain English goes a long way towards creating a healthy glow in your visitors. Is a terse “submit” or “click here” necessarily the best way to encourage interaction? Elsewhere, simple and concise privacy declarations can be much more effective at allaying security fears than hefty legal declarations. Error messages should also be considered, and avoid placing blame on the user – a guaranteed way to annoy and frustrate potential customers…

Think also about the information you really need from your visitors, and which should be mandatory. The most successful registration forms often ask only for the basics, giving visitors the option to expand their details once signed-up, or pace the layout in such a way as not to swamp users with a pageful of text boxes.

If you can create a friendly dialogue with your visitors and fill them with confidence the customer relationship can only be strengthened, leading to repeat visits, improved loyalty and even increased return on investment!

For more on this topic, check out Derek Powazek’s excellent article on A List Apart

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