Daily UX Crash Course: 23 of 31

When it comes to copywriting, UX people and true copywriters care about different things. Our focus is on specific types of writing, and we’re not in it for the poetic street cred. Today we will learn about:

Calls-To-Action, Instructions & Labels


(If you’re just starting the UX Crash Course: Start Here.)


There are four places when a UX designer might give input about the words being used to communicate with users. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to let the content creators do their thing. Those four places are:

  • Calls-to-Action

  • Instructions

  • Labels

  • Longer, persuasive text.

This lesson will cover the first 3. #4 gets a whole lesson of its own, later in the Crash Course.



A “CTA” is the headline or the text on/near a button that tells people what to do. “Download the app now!” or “Upgrade your account for free!” or something like that. And: you might be surprised how much effect good UX copy can make in those cases.

The general formula for a good CTA is:


Verb: is the thing they will do.

Benefit: is what they will get (if the verb didn’t already include it).

Urgency: is a time frame like “now” or a place like “here”. The word “free” can also create urgency if it fits your situation.

For a slightly more detailed explanation of this formula:



If it isn’t 100% obvious how the user should do something — and even if it is — you might want to help them out. Yesterday’s lesson on forms touched on this too, because forms are the most common place to use instructions.

Instructions should be short, literal, and direct. No lingo. No industry terms. No clever jokes or sarcasm or funny business. Don’t be too wordy or too soft.

Tell them exactly what to do. Use the simplest words and phrases you know. Write to everyone like they are smart children, or someone who is just learning the language. Don’t make it stupid, just make it clear.

Bad: “Swing on down to the clicky spot when yer all set!”

Also bad: “All input in this area is required data and must be successfully submitted to initiate the account creation process.”

Stupid: “Look at you! You’re so good at forms! When you get everything typed in there like a good form filler-outer then you should just go ahead and click that fancy yellow button below! You’re almost there, champ!”

Good: “Answer every question. Then click the yellow button labelled done at the bottom of this page.”



It can be very tempting to make labels clever or unique, but always resist that temptation. Use the most common, easiest, most basic version of the label that you can imagine. If your label can have more than one type of answer, it might not be clear enough yet.

Bad: “Where your heart is…”

Not good: “The place where you live”

Better: “Address”

Best: “Home Address”

Labels also apply to buttons, which is something that a lot of designers overlook.

If you skip the headline and the instructions, will you still understand what the buttons do? If not, make the labels better.

Bad Button Labels: “Ok” or “Yes”

Good Button Labels: “Delete Your Account” or “Save Changes”


However, this is one of the times in UX when the method is fairly easy and the real-life scenario can get political. If you have a Creative Director or a Copywriter or client looking at your text and saying “we need to make it more awesome” you must say no.

Prove it with an A/B test if you must, but never back down when the text is for practical, functional reasons. Sometimes the “experience” the user needs is something simple and clear, not something awesome and fun.


Tomorrow we will learn the last thing about actually designing pages: Primary & Secondary Buttons.