What’s the single most important part of UX?

You may have noticed how everyone is suddenly paying a lot of attention to UX. That’s ‘user experience’, if you haven’t been paying attention. It’s the new content marketing. Or should that be the new gamification?

User experience focuses on how efficient and satisfying your users find your product or your service. But most often it’s used about interfaces.

It’s understandable that those in the UX industry would be quite keen to see the definition of UX expanded to include, well, every aspect of interaction between user and organisation. In which case UX would include, let’s see, branding, graphic design, photography, call centres, paper quality, architecture, interior design… Yup, the whole lot. And in fact that’s where CX comes in. That’s ‘customer experience’, viewed through a UX type lens. For the rest of us, it may be more helpful to keep the term UX to describe the process of interrogating and improving interfaces.

I’ve done a lot of work with UX people, and I love the way they think. I love the way they focus on testing, unlike most graphic designers or branding people. I love the way small changes can make dramatic differences. I love the way they really do focus on what works, and on what matters to the people they’re ultimately serving. There’s an attractive humility there, as well as a pleasing quasi-academic atmosphere.

But it’s intriguing to me that UX people tend to focus on things like the positioning of buttons, sequence of tasks, streamlining interfaces. But they don’t focus on language. Copywriting is typically an afterthought. Try searching for ‘UX copywriter’ roles. (You’ll get a whole load of results, but only because there are copywriter roles and UX designer roles on the same page.)

Yet if interfaces are about getting people to carry out a sequence of tasks, then communicating what they need to do is essential. It’s not everything, but it’s nearly everything. And how do we actually communicate ideas? Yes, through language.

If the language used in an interface isn’t working well – unclear, confusing, obscure, dense – then the interface won’t work well either.

I’d go so far as to say that language is the single most important part of an interface. But then I would say that. (A bit like the UX people who say everything is UX. They’d just nod wisely and explain that of course language is part of UX. How could it not be?)

So next time you’re thinking about doing some user experience design and testing, make sure you keep a sharp focus on the language too.