Style in the spotlight

Be human, be friendly

Write as if you were having a conversation with someone with a friendly tone. Sounding natural will help get your message across clearly and easily. Unnecessarily formal language could possibly make a barrier between the people and the product they are using. Avoid using technical words when it is not necessary, and use everyday words instead. Use articles (a, an, the) and other determiners (this, that) to make your text sound human, but never introduce slang or derogative words. Do not complicate your message with long-winded metafors, either.

Be clear

When writing for mobile UIs, you should not spend hours trying to come up with different ways to convey messages in informative messages, for example. Sentence structures that work nicely in one place can also be reused elsewhere. You should make your message as precise as possible, paying attention to words that can have different interpretations in different contexts. When you think it might be difficult to figure out whether ‘empty’ or ‘open’ is a verb or an adjective, consider adding a note for translators. You might also want to use different wording. Make sure your sentences are complete and include all the needed verbs, for example. Pay also attention to the order of information in your messages: the order in which the steps need to be taken can also be reflected in your copy.

Find the essence of your message

Place the most important part of the message at the beginning of each text. Concentrate on the essentials, and do not hide your message behind unnecessary lines of prose. Bear in mind that people are not willing to spend a lot of time reading UI texts; often the texts are briefly glanced at, and there may not be much space for your text, either.

Minding your manners

In order to sound helpful and polite, consider using ‘please’ and ‘thanks’ where appropriate. Do not overdo it, though, but think about the amount of time and effort someone has to spend on a task. If it takes more than a few seconds, it’s best to use them. ‘Please’ and ‘thanks’ are also in order when you’re asking people to supply personal information in order to get access to an application, a feature, or a service for the first time. Sometimes an active verb sounds a bit abrupt when shown alone. Adding ‘please’ may be a good idea to soften your message.

Get active

When you want somebody to do something, start your message with a verb and make it active. This helps maintain a conversational and interactive tone. Choose everyday verbs that describe what to do.

Fun, quirky, offbeat

Write with a playful and offbeat edge. Play around with your words and try to look at things from a different angle. Seek inspiration from everywhere. As long as it’s still clear and easy to understand, this is exactly what you should aim at. Remember that you are encouraging people to explore their phone or services to discover exciting features. This can’t be done with a language without any emotion. So, use humour to engage with people. However, introduce quirkiness with consideration: there is a time and place for being quirky. Quirkiness works best in rarely seen texts. Think about what the person using the phone is trying to do when your text appears. If it’s an error message, it’s probably not the best time to target their funny bone.

I, my, me, we and you

Don’t use ‘I’ or ‘me’ when referring to the application or service, as we don’t try to pretend that phones are people’s best friends. Use ‘you’ or ‘your’ to subtly underline the close relationship that many people have with their phone. Only use ‘my’ to refer to something some one has created themselves, like playlists or favourites. Avoid using the third person. If you absolutely have to use it, don’t use ‘he’ or ‘she’. Instead repeat the noun or use the plural. Use ‘we’ sparingly. In Nokia applications, it is only used when referring to Nokia.

No dead ends

Avoid creating texts that only inform about a problem or missing content, without giving advice. Texts like these may seem unhelpful or annoying. Think about how you could encourage people to create their own content and make the most of their phone’s features.

Make it easily localizable

When your English copy will be used as a source for other languages, there are a few things you should take into account:

  • Bear in mind that English is a relatively compact language, and other languages may need at least 40% more space for the texts. As a general rule, if you’ve had to shorten words or have very little space left over, then you can guarantee that many other languages will need to shorten even more words. Naturally, this has a very negative impact on the usability of the UI.

  • Writing good descriptions for the translators will improve the quality of translations a lot. Tell what the essence of the message is and where it appears. It should also be clear what other texts it relates to.

  • Furthermore, when adding quirkiness into your copy, you may want to send across a ‘non-quirky’ version of your text as a back-up plan. What seems quirky in English may not have the intended meaning once translated.

  • Bear also in mind that the order of words and information varies in different languages: avoid creating phrases from different texts (concatenation).