I’ll never forget the first time I heard “UX”. I had apparently been doing UX writing as 50% of my job (the other 50% was marketing copywriting). I wrote a popup which was presented in a meeting and a UX design lead pointed out that the title and buttons were not continuous, that the user had to read the body text in between to make sense of the message, and that goes against a known UX practice.
“UX?” I asked him later.
He generously took the time to teach me and as soon as he’d defined the term I understood that I’d been doing it all along. Poorly. And that it was my absolute favorite part of my job. I read all the things. Attended all the talks and listened to all the podcasts. I was ravenous for UX writing and all that it entailed. I wanted to know the history, best practices, current global conversations, visions and paradigms and technologies that would guide the field forward. I soaked it all up, I applied it to my work, and I got better. I was having the time of my life. It was fun and exciting and I was challenged and growing. Life was peachy.
Until I got bored.
At a certain point, the challenges weren’t new. Sure, each feature has its unique limitations, business considerations, stakeholders and their collaboration styles. Every project was a little different from the last. But I still felt a bit blah as I started each new copy doc. I procrastinated because I wasn’t all that interested and then banged the copy out it like 8 seconds flat, practically by rote. I couldn’t go on like this.
I started to think about where I could go from here.
I’d already thoroughly explored writing web and mobile UI and transactional emails, and content design. I’d initiated, owned, and driven behind the scenes projects like creating a voice and tone and style guide; and content ops including documentation practices and process optimization. I’d given talks, run workshops, mentored, been interviewed, and published in leading industry blogs, sharing my knowledge and experience with it all. What else was there to do? Where could I go from here?
I happen to have the very best manager who ever lived. No joke. I’d go on about what makes him such a rock star but that’s honestly a whole post (or 3) unto itself. But I will say this: we have open and honest communication. Really open. Really honest. I told him straight up:
Not to sound egotistical or anything like that, but I’ve done it all. I’m good at it all. I need more. What is there?”
He’s been in UX for 20+ years; if anyone would have an idea, he would.
I thought about management. But I don’t think that role would play to my strengths or interests, at least not right now. Also, there was no opportunity for that at my current company, and I really didn’t want to leave. Did I mention my boss is a dream? You don’t walk away from that so fast.
Who should a UX writer manage anyway? Not many companies have enough UX writers to make up a whole team with a UX writer at the helm. That would only be an option at a big company where each individual has less of an impact than at a smaller startup and I’m not sure that’d be worth it. Impact is a reason to get up in the morning.
Could a UX writer manage UX designers? Maybe. I mean, designers often manage writers so why not the other way around? Though I’ve never heard of it. Could we manage researchers? I guess. After stewing in these thoughts for a while I came to the conclusion that the best setup for a UX writing manager would be to manage other writers and to do that I’d have to be at a bigger company and have less impact than I wanted.
It would also mean I’d have to manage. That didn’t excite me. It’s a whole different skill set. The day-to-day is completely different. The challenges and rewards are different and while I can see it all fitting me in the future, I wasn’t ready to step back from my users yet. I still wanted to be in the weeds.
Voice is the future! Chatbots are where it’s at! That’s what I told myself. That’s what I read on the internet (after curating the content I consume to support it, of course). I set out to explore.
- I took a chatbot course with UXWC, the gold standard in my opinion.
- I attended webinars and a Clubhouse chat with Hillary Black, a major thought leader in the conversation design space.
- I signed up for a Women in Voice mentor and gained valuable insights and resources from Christy Torres, a conversation designer at Charles Schwab.
- I bought an Echo Dot and created a skill that would decide which of my kids has to get in the bath first — they don’t argue with Alexa like they argue with me. #winning
- At our office hackathon I partnered with an engineer to create a skill that integrated with internal systems, so that you could ask it which conference room was currently available, which engineer was on call for production emergencies, and which was the best team in the company (hardcoded to answer “UX”, obviously).
At the end of it all, I could confidently say that conversation design is not for me. The technology is too limiting and the writing just wasn’t all that fun for me.
This is the point at which I went to my boss and said that I was bored, that I needed something new, that I’m pretty sure management and conversation design aren’t it. In 0.8 seconds flat (I mentioned he’s the best, right?), he suggested UX research. I don’t know why that was so mind blowing, but I immediately perked up. TELL ME MORE.
- It’s a huge field so I won’t run out of things to explore so fast
- It compliments my current expertise, doesn’t replace it;. It will broaden my skill set, not shift my career path over to something else.
- I have transferable skills so I could start with confidence, but also so much to learn and grow.
- I could do it at my current company! We don’t have a UX researcher but that doesn’t mean we don’t need UX research. I wouldn’t have to leave and the company wouldn’t be “doing me a favor”. It would be a perfect match for what we both needed.
I was excited!
So here I am, doing usability testing, surveys, interviews, case studies, and more. I’m collaborating with designers, product marketers, and sales in new ways. I’m learning new tools and my UX writing is informed on a whole new level.
I found my next big thing.
Management might very well be your thing. Or conversation design. Maybe you want to stay in pure UX writing but try an app in a different industry, or an app that’s exclusively on mobile, or a small startup, or a big corporation. Maybe you want to specialize in localization and globalization. The point is not the direction you choose but that there are directions to choose from.
Whatever it is, there is room for growth. For me, that wasn’t as obvious as maybe it should have been, which is why I’m sharing this journey with you.