Writing Is Designing Cover

Writing Is Designing

Words and the User Experience

By Michael J. Metts & Andy Welfle

Published: January 2020
Paperback: 200 pages
ISBN: 978-1933820-66-8
Digital ISBN: 978-1933820-60-6

Without words, apps would be an unusable jumble of shapes and icons, while voice interfaces and chatbots wouldn’t even exist. Words make software human-centered, and require just as much thought as the branding and code. This book will show you how to give your users clarity, test your words, and collaborate with your team. You’ll see that writing is designing.

Who this book is for

  • People who make their living writing and leading content strategy for software interfaces, or those who want to transition into this type of role from another writing background.
  • Designers and design leaders.
  • Product managers, engineers, and executives.

Hear the authors on The Rosenfeld Review Podcast

Paperback + Ebooks i All of our Paperbacks come with a FREE ebook in 4 common formats.


Ebooks only i All ebooks come in DRM-free Kindle (MOBI), PDF, ePub, and DAISY formats.


More about Writing Is Designing


Often, the most difficult parts of an interface writer’s job are political. This is a guide to making good choices and getting other people in your organization to support a cohesive strategy.

Erika Hall, author of Conversational Design and Just Enough Research

People new to the industry will find out how to create great content. Experienced professionals will find evidence and examples to have constructive conversations. Buy the book.

Sarah Richards, author of Content Design

This book doesn’t just formalize the discipline of writing for the user experience; it empowers all digital product writers to stand up for their craft and take a permanent seat at the design table.

Kristina Halvorson, CEO, Brain Traffic and author, Content Strategy for the Web

At last! A book that treats writing for products as a design practice that has tangible, lasting impact on the user experience. Andy and Michael don’t just help you write better—they help you design better products.

Jonathon Colman, Senior Design Manager, Intercom

A delightful—and critical—guide for anyone who uses words to create a user experience. Andy and Michael’s commitment to usable, useful writing is inspiring, and this book goes beyond the basics to give insights that will help you build and maintain a career. No matter what your job title, you’ll find tons of important and relevant information here.

Andrea Drugay, UX Writing Manager at Dropbox and Editor of Dropbox.design

The inevitable question ‘What exactly do you do?’ comes up in conversation for product UX writers a lot. This book reads like a warm, friendly answer over a cup of coffee in a Midwestern diner.

— Matt Shearon, Writing and Content Strategy Manager, Pinterest

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – More than Button Labels: How Words Shape Experiences
Chapter 2 – Strategy and Research: Beyond Best Practices
Chapter 3 – Creating Clarity: Know What You’re Designing
Chapter 4 – Errors and Stress Cases: When Things Go Wrong
Chapter 5 – Inclusivity and Accessibility: Writing that Works for Everyone
Chapter 6 – Voice: Discovering and Developing Identity
Chapter 7 – Tone: Meeting People Where They Are
Chapter 8 – Collaboration and Consistency: Building your Practice


I wrote my first website copy in 2006. My client was a luxury condo development with a faintly ridiculous name, and my only source content was a print ad full of corny wine metaphors. I didn’t care. I was 23 years old, and I was writing for a living. I even got benefits! So I sat down and clickety-clacked my way through: Drink in the bold flavor of Bordeaux Heights.

That’s not real, but you get the idea. It was terrible.

Over time, I learned to be useful. To be clear. To make it obvious how things worked and where things were. I like to think I even got pretty good at it. But back then, I didn’t have to think about how to make a complex onboarding flow feel intuitive, or which states we needed to consider in an app, or how to design content for a tiny screen. There were no iPhones—much less smartwatches or FitBits or an app to control your thermostat.
A lot has changed. Interfaces now sit between us and all kinds of intimate moments and critical tasks. And each of those interfaces is full of words—words someone, somewhere has to write.

If you’re that someone, this book will be your new best friend. Because designing interface content takes writing skill, sure. But it also takes curiosity about how things work, and compassion for the people they need to work for. And you’ll find those things here, too.

Andy and Michael have a wealth of experience designing with words, and you’ll see it in the coming pages. But what I love best about this book is that they know great interface writing doesn’t come from lone geniuses with outsized egos. It comes from listening to as many perspectives as possible. In each chapter, they bring you fresh voices with essential knowledge on writing inclusive, accessible interfaces.

So dig in. Because this book is about more than words. It’s about doing work that matters.

—Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Technically Wrong, Design for Real Life, and Content Everywhere


These common questions and their short answers are taken from Michael J. Metts and Andy Welfle’s book Writing Is Designing: Words and the User Experience. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  1. What do you mean by “writing is designing?”
    Just that. In many product teams, the words are an afterthought, and come after the “design,” or the visual and experiential system. It shouldn’t be like that: the writer should be creating words as the rest of the experience is developed. They should be iterative, validated with research, and highly collaborative. Writing is part of the design process, and writers are designers. That’s the main thesis of this book (which you’ll read in Chapter 1), and the point that we try to drive home in every chapter.
  2. Is this book written only for writers?
    No. Even if you only do this type of writing occasionally, you’ll learn from this book. If you’re a designer, product manager, developer, or anyone else who writes for your users, you’ll benefit from it. This book will also help people who manage or collaborate with writers, since you’ll get to see what goes into this type of writing, and how it fits into the product design and development process. However, if writing is your main responsibility and you’re looking for ways to collaborate with your team, you’ll find those ideas in Chapter 8.
  3. Will you teach me how to write error messages?
    Yes indeed! We cover error messages and stress cases in Chapter 4. This isn’t a how-to book, though—we talk about how to approach the work, how to think about it strategically, and how to set yourself up for success so you can jump in and do the writing.
  4. What’s the difference between voice and tone?
    They’re highly interrelated, but very different! “Voice” (Chapter 6) is the set of constant attributes in your writing that sets expectations, mood, and a relationship with your user. It’s your product’s personality. “Tone” (Chapter 7) shifts, depending on context: For example, you might write with a motivational tone if your users were new to your product, or with a supportive tone if they were frustrated. This book has strategies and approaches to developing those tone profiles and when to deploy them.

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