People rarely read to the end. And they almost never spend as much time reading your words as you spend writing them. Which makes it ironic that the little phrases we use (in designing a simple form, or when we...

Microcopy in the age of the glance

People rarely read to the end. And they almost never spend as much time reading your words as you spend writing them.

Which makes it ironic that the little phrases we use (in designing a simple form, or when we answer the phone) matter so much.

Being gentle, kind or human goes a long way.

Coming across as confident, clear and correct matters as well.

Microcopy is word choice. It's a glimpse of a smile or a slip of impatience.

When you start putting™ trademark symbols in random spots, using extra exclamation points or (this is the biggest one) adopting a false commanding tone and being a jerk in your writing, then you lose us.

We know that you feel like using words like ONLY, NEVER, PERMANENT and NOTICE, but we'd rather hear from someone we like instead.

       
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“What about endogeneity?”

Ask this question often.

Several times a day, at least.

Endogeneity is a fancy term for confusing cause and effect. For not being clear about causation and correlation.

It's one reason why smart people make so many mistakes. We think A leads to B, so more A gets more B. While A and B may have been related in the past, though, it's not at all clear that improving A is going to do anything about B.

There is, for example, an extraordinarily high correlation between per capita cheese consumption and the risk of being strangled by your bedsheets while you sleep:

Chart

That doesn't mean that eating less cheese is going to help you not die in bed.

       
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Lowering the bar

Raymond Loewy coined the term MAYA to describe Most Advanced Yet Acceptable when it came to futuristic design. The thinking goes that people (the amorphous term for the lumpen masses) won't accept something too advanced, so we ought to lower our standards to gain acceptance.

But mass acceptance isn't nearly as important as it used to be. Pockets of commitment and enthusiasm are more important than being tolerated or even accepted by the disinterested masses.

Our hunch is that we need to average things down if we don't want to be rejected, that we need to offer a bit less if we're hoping to make change happen. Mostly, we tell ourselves to dumb things down and pander to people who don't pay attention, are afraid of forward motion and don't care much either.

But the horizontal nature of information flow means that the opposite is now true. We can be as positive and pure and advanced as we can imagine, and some folks will follow.

If we can fall out of love with the quick mass hit, the requirement isn't to lower the bar. It's to make big promises and actually keep them.

Would you have it any other way?

       
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Facts are not the antidote for doubt

Drink enough water and you will cease to be thirsty.

And yet, a doubting person can be drowning in facts, but facts won't change a mind that doesn't want to be changed. More facts don't counter more doubt. Someone who is shaking his head, arms folded, eyes squinted and ears closed isn't going to be swayed by more facts.

Instead, doubt surrenders to experience. And experience can only happen if there's enrollment.

If someone is willing to find the right answer, willing to explore what might be effective, what might be confirmable, then enrolling in the journey to ease doubt opens the door to personal experience. Which, magically, can let the light in.

Experience, working it out, touching it, studying it, repeatedly asking why with an open mind... these experiences engage us, earn our attention and gain our trust.

Doubt comes from fear, which is why it's so difficult to earn enrollment. People don't want to commit to working their way out of doubt, because doubt is a perverse variation of perceived  safety, a paralysis in the face of the unknown. Earn enrollment first, a commitment to find a path, then bring on the process and the facts.

       
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Choosing your fuel

The work is difficult. Overcoming obstacles, facing rejection, exploring the unknown--many of us need a narrative to fuel our forward motion, something to keep us insisting on the next cycle, on better results, on doing work that matters even more.

The fuel you choose, though, determines how you will spend your days. You will spend far more time marinating in your fuel than you will actually doing breakthrough work. Richard Feynman was famously motivated by the joy of figuring things out. His scientific journey (which earned him a Nobel Prize) also provided him with truly wonderful days.

Here is a partial list, in alphabetical order, of narratives light and dark that can serve as fuel to push us to do work that others might walk away from:

They all work. Some of them leave you wrecked, some create an environment of possibility and connection and joy. Up to you. 

       
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