How to look like you know what you're doing (even if you don't)

Ben Dudley offers practical advice for new UX writers on how to navigate the first six months in a new role or company, sharing insights from his own journey and emphasizing the importance of learning from mistakes, celebrating successes, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

In the fifteenth video of our Perspectives series, we feature Ben Dudley, a senior freelance UX writer based in Stockholm. Ben shares his experience and practical tips for navigating the first six months as a UX writer, whether it's your first job or you're joining a new company or team. This presentation delves into the challenges new UX writers face, such as imposter syndrome, and offers strategies for overcoming them to set yourself up for success.

Meet our speaker

Photo of Ben Dudley
Ben DudleySenior Freelance Content Designer (UX Writer) and Copywriter

Ben is a 35-year-old from Wales currently living in natural light-free Stockholm. When he was a kid, he wanted to either play football for Wales or be a dinosaur. Sadly, he has achieved neither of those things, but he is a fairly okay UX Writer instead. He has worked for Booking.com, Bumble, and adidas, and now runs his own company as a freelancer.

Ben is also on the board at his beloved football team, Llantwit Major AFC, and enjoys watching them play whenever possible. His other hobbies include drone flying, looking at pictures of cool donkeys, and owning way too many adidas sneakers.

Photo of Ben Dudley
Ben Dudley

About this talk

In his presentation, Ben shares his wealth of experience as a UX writer, offering practical advice and strategies for those just starting out in the field or transitioning to a new company or team. Drawing from his own journey, which includes roles at Booking.com, Bumble, and adidas, Ben highlights the challenges new UX writers often face and provides actionable tips to overcome them.

Throughout the talk, Ben emphasizes the importance of learning from mistakes and not letting them define you. He shares personal anecdotes of his own missteps and how he grew from those experiences, encouraging new UX writers to embrace their mistakes as opportunities for growth and improvement.

Ben also stresses the significance of celebrating your own successes, especially when working as a solo UX writer or in a company where the value of the craft may not be fully understood. He advises UX writers to share their achievements with colleagues and explain why their work matters, as this can help boost confidence and inspire others to make positive changes to the product.

Additionally, Ben touches on the topic of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, particularly when relocating for a new job. He reminds listeners to take the time to explore their new surroundings and engage in activities outside of work, as this can help alleviate stress and prevent burnout.

This talk is a must-watch for anyone embarking on a career in UX writing or transitioning to a new role within the field. Ben's insights, practical tips, and relatable stories offer valuable guidance on navigating the challenges and opportunities that come with being a UX writer, ultimately setting yourself up for success in your career.

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5 content professionals share leadership insights: Navigating imposter syndrome, celebrating wins, and more.

Lessons learned from Ben

Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities

Throughout his presentation, Ben emphasizes the importance of learning from mistakes and not allowing them to define you. As a new UX writer, it's inevitable that you will make mistakes along the way. The key is to react positively, understand what went wrong, and take steps to avoid repeating the same mistake in the future. By embracing these experiences as opportunities for growth, you can continually improve your skills and become a more effective UX writer.

Celebrate your successes and share them with others

Ben encourages UX writers to celebrate their successes and share them with colleagues, especially when working as a solo UX writer or in a company where the value of the craft may not be fully understood. By communicating your achievements and explaining why your work matters, you can boost your own confidence and inspire others to make positive changes to the product. This not only benefits your personal growth but also helps to establish the importance of UX writing within the organization.

Get involved early and collaborate with designers

To increase your chances of success as a UX writer, Ben advises getting involved in projects as early as possible. By collaborating with designers from the start, you can provide valuable insights and help shape the design and user experience before constraints are put in place. This proactive approach allows you to have a greater impact on the final product and ensures that the copy seamlessly integrates with the overall design.

Maintain a healthy work-life balance

Relocating for a new job can be exciting, but it's essential to maintain a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout and undue stress. Ben reminds listeners to take the time to explore their new surroundings and engage in activities outside of work. By finding a balance between your professional and personal life, you can approach your work with a clearer mind and renewed energy, ultimately leading to better performance and job satisfaction.

By implementing the lessons shared by Ben, new UX writers and those transitioning to new roles can navigate the challenges and opportunities they face with greater confidence and success. Embracing mistakes, celebrating successes, collaborating early, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are key strategies for thriving in your UX writing career.

About Perspectives Conf

This talk is part of Track #1 - Breaking into content design of the 2022 edition of our conference.

Perspectives Conf is the world’s first event specifically focused on the careers side of content. It’s been carefully curated to help people at all levels navigate the many facets of working in content – from being the first content person to hiring and growing a team.

Logo of Perspectives 2022 event
See full Perspectives 2022 program

Transcript of the talk

00:01 Hey everyone. Um, thanks a lot for taking the time to join me today. Um, I am really glad to be here.

00:07 I'm really looking forward. Um, to speaking to you a bit about, um, my experience and give you some useful tips for the first six months or so as a UX writer, um, when it's your first job or when you're going into a new company or a new team, um, that's something that I've done several times.

00:25 Um, and I think I can give some good, um, input into how to avoid the dreaded imposter syndrome that we suffer from sometimes.

00:34 Um, so just to tell you a little bit about myself, I am currently working as a freelance UX writer. I've been doing that for coming up to one year now here in Stockholm.

00:43 Um, but before that I was working internally, um, with three main roles.

00:49 Um, I started off my UX writing career, at, Bookingcom in Amsterdam. I was there for around four years. I then spent one year in London with Bumble, um, really enjoyed that, um, job, but I didn't really like the lifestyle of London so much.

01:05 So then I moved back to Amsterdam and I spent another three or four years, um, with Adidas before I became, um, a freelancer, but I wasn't always a UX writer.

01:16 In fact, I was about as far away from that, as you can be for awhile. Um, I had studied journalism in university and I realized that journalism wasn't for me, but I hadn't worked out what was for me.

01:28 yet. Um, so my first job after university, I worked in a factory putting the stuffing into teddy bears, um, might be nice for some people, but I didn't last very long there.

01:39 Um, I then moved on, um, to work for a fireside football center, um, where one of my main responsibilities was blowing up 200 or so footballs every three days, um, developed some strong arm muscles, but that was about it.

01:55 Um, and then the one that I tell on Tinder first dates to impress people. Um, I spent six months or so working on Madonna's security team.

02:04 Uh, but we'll save that for another time. Um, I'm speaking at the Madonna convention next week, so you can watch that presentation instead.

02:12 Uh, I'm going to focus on UX writing, um, just to give you a bit of insight into myself and how I like to present.

02:20 Um, I really don't like presentations where there's lots of text on the screen. Um, it doesn't work for me personally.

02:26 I always find myself kind of reading the text instead of paying attention to what the person is saying.

02:32 Um, so throughout my presentation, there's not going to be a lot of text. It's mainly going to be pictures of animals to be honest.

02:38 Um, but I think that's good because first of all, it means that hopefully you'll listen a bit to whatIsay. And secondly, if you find what I say very boring, there's going to be some nice penguins and dolphins and stuff, um, for you to look at instead.

02:53 So, um, a little bit about my first day as a UX writer, like I said, um, my first UX writing job was Bookingcom.

03:00 Um, and I literally had to Google, what does UX stand for? Um, when I was, when I was, um, informed about the role I was working, um, at an SEO agency in Manchester at the time, um, and I got an email from booking.com saying, do you want to come and be a UX writer in Amsterdam?

03:19 I had no idea what a UX writer was, but I knew I wanted to go and live in Amsterdam. so.

03:24 I said yes. And then I kind of figured out a little bit about what a UX writer was in the time between them that getting the email and going into my interview, but not so much, let's say, um, this was before Zoom.

03:37 So I was flown over there. Um, I spent one full day in Amsterdam. I think I did like seven hours of interviews.

03:45 Um, and when it was over, I was like, well, I failed that. Um, because the, the writing parts went well, but there was parts speaking to developers and designers.

03:55 And I just was not very clued up about that at the time. Um, but thankfully I did get the job, um, and I moved to Amsterdam and then I realized, oh, wow, I am in over my head here.

04:06 I do not know what I'm doing. Um, and luckily for me, there were a few UX writers already at the company.

04:14 Um, there were not so many, um, I think I was the fifth. Um, and currently there's something like 75. Um, so obviously the team has grown a lot over the last 10 years or so.

04:26 Um, so if you are joining an established team, um, you can do what I did, which is to speak to people with experience, kind of see how they coped, um, when they, when you take their top tips, um, borrow their working style, see how they work with designers and you can, um, learn from that.

04:44 But what I'm mostly going to talk about in this presentation is for, I think this will be the majority of you who are just starting out with UX writing, or really kind of getting yourself, um, on the ladder and beginning your career.

04:57 And that's when you're pretty much all by yourself. Or maybe you have one other UX writer or you might gain one of the UX writer later.

05:04 Um, and it's very easy to look like this poor guy here. Um, when you are by yourself, it can be challenging.

05:10 It can be tough. Um, but there's some things that I've learned, um, from my experience that I think can help you.

05:16 And I think can really get you off to a positive set-up, um, avoid that imposter syndrome feeling and not be browsing for new jobs, just in case you get fired.

05:25 Like you think you are every day. Um, so I've got some more tips after this as well, but these are really probably my, my top five things to do.

05:34 Um, once you first got started and you first joined the company, um, first of all, it's to review everything and anything you can find.

05:42 Um, so maybe you're working for a website, maybe it's a mobile app. Maybe they have both, um, whatever platforms your company has.

05:51 You should be going through them, especially if you are the first UX writer or the only UX writer that's there.

05:57 Um, because you will for sure find things that someone else has not thought of, or, um, you know, the design looks great, but actually it doesn't work because the copy, um, doesn't work or it doesn't fit, or there's not enough space, um, and all this.

06:12 So just by going through everything, um, note things down, even if you can't work on them right now, or we didn't have the capacity to work on them right now think, Ooh, I spotted this.

06:22 I don't particularly like this. I think that's going to be improved. I'm going to work on that later. Um, not only does this kind of give you more understanding of the product, it also gives you a lot of ideas for experiments and things to implement on later.

06:38 And it shows to the rest of the company and your colleagues that you're really kind of invested in the product you're ready to get going and start making an impact.

06:47 So I can't recommend that enough and it's really best to do it as early as possible once you join the company.

06:53 Um, because you'll know once you've been at a company for a year or longer, um, you look at things so much and they're so kind of ingrained that it's hard to spot things to change, and it's hard to notice, oh maybe this isn't quite right.

07:06 So I would do that as soon as you can. Um, my next tip is to get to know your designers and their process.

07:14 Um, so obviously as a UX writer or a content designer, um, you work very closely with the UX designers, the UI designers, um, and finding your way into their process and into their style of work.

07:28 There's no better way to kind of set yourself up for success. Um, so get to know them, join their meetings to start with.

07:35 You don't have to join their meetings, um, all the time, of course, but when, when you're kind of new and throwing yourself into it, join their meetings, discover how they would like you to work.

07:45 Think about how you would like to work. That takes me on to my next step, which is what's best for you.

07:51 Um, so if you're joining a company and you are one of the first UX writers or the first UX writers, there could well be a suggested workflow.

07:58 That's been put in place by your manager. Um, but he, or she may not be UX writer, and they may not know, um, what is the best for a UX writer.

08:08 Or what works best. So don't be afraid to challenge things.

08:11 Don't be afraid to kind of put your own stamp on how you work, think about what would be best for you, um, because the chances are that people will be delighted that you're doing that for them.

08:21 And you're also setting up any future UX writers that join your team or join the company after you've moved on somewhere else.

08:27 You're setting them up for success also by having the best possible, um, workflow and having the best person the best possible, um, working situation.

08:36 Um, the next thing I'd like to talk about is really boosting your confidence, both in yourself and other people's confidence in you and that's to change something as soon as you can.

08:47 Um, so when I started@booking.com, I'm not allowed to say the actual number of users booking.com has. Um, but it is in the tens of million per day.

08:58 And I, the first time that I wrote some copy, it changed some copy and I could see it live on the homepage.

09:04 It was such an amazing feeling. It was like, wow, I've actually arrived. Now I'm not writing about, um, kitchen taps, which I was doing at the SEO company.

09:14 This is stuff that's really making a difference, really being seen by a lot of people. Um, and it's such a confidence booster to see, um, to see your work live and see that you've done something.

09:24 And it's also really positive for the rest of the company, because they obviously use the product they're going to log on.

09:29 They're going to see this new and improved copy, and they're going to be like, oh, nice. Um, our new UX writer is actually doing something they've made this change.

09:38 I know now if I'm doing copy in the future, um, that's who I should speak to. Um, and the last thing you might have noticed with my numbering, um, it was actually deliberate that mistakes happen.

09:49 Mistakes are always going to happen when you try something new. It doesn't matter what it is. Um, during the very early stages of the COVID lockdown, I decided that I wanted to become a gardener because I was that bored.

10:01 Um, I bought something like 18, flowerpots planted 18 plants, and I think 17 of them died. Um, so whatever you're doing, whenever you're doing something new mistakes will happen.

10:12 And it's not about not making mistakes because that is going to happen. It's all about how you react to mistakes.

10:19 Um, learning from that process, learning from that experience, working out why it went wrong, or how it went wrong, and then making sure that doesn't happen again.

10:27 Um, and everyone should understand this, you know, whenever someone starts a new role, they'll always have a story of how they accidentally broke the website, or they emailed the wrong client or something like this, or they spelled the, uh, the product name wrong.

10:40 Um, so it was just about, okay, this went wrong. I wish this hadn't happened, but it did. I'm not gonna do that again next time.

10:48 And it's all about this personal growth and just not letting the one mistake define you. So those are my top early tips.

10:55 I'm going to go into a bit more detail on some things now that I think are important and are kind of like an essential part of a content design or a UX writing role.

11:04 Um, so the first one is testing. Um, so some of you will know about this already. Maybe some of you won't.

11:11 Um, one of the most common types of testing, um, for UX writer is AB testing. And for anyone who doesn't know what that is, that's when you take two variants of copy, um, we'll use a CTA or a button, um, as an example, and it's going to be the button to buy something.

11:29 So perhaps in the version A, of this experiment, it's going to say buy now. And in version B, this experiment is going to say checkout.

11:37 So an equal amount of users will see buy now as they see checkout and you'll be able to see the data of, okay.

11:44 So of everyone that saw buy now, 3% of them bought something, but for people who saw checkout, 16% of people bought something.

11:52 And that case you can see, okay, check out is clearly more effective of users because it impacts this metric. And, um, it's not all about conversion.

12:01 Um, there can be so many metrics that you consider when it's doing AB testing. It can be signing up for a newsletter.

12:08 It can be the amount of time that they spend on the site. Um, it can be them signing up to create an account, anything like that.

12:15 Um, but as soon as you can get testing going, um, you should do it as quickly as possible because there's really no other better way to prove your hypothesis than to actually have users prove it for you.

12:26 Um, and especially when you are new and you don't have kind of past experience from other companies to rely on about this kind of thing.

12:34 Um, just by testing it with actual real life users, it's such a good way to get to know more about the product.

12:40 And it also stops any situations where perhaps someone who isn't a copywriter doesn't agree with your suggestion, or they try and give you their own suggestion rather than having to have that awkward conversation of like, oh, well, I'm the copywriter.

12:54 So we're going to say this. Um, you can test that suggestion and maybe it will work in that case.

12:59 Great, because the product has been improved and the user experience has been improved, um, from my experience more often than not, it doesn't work in that experiment in that experiment, but then you can go back to this person and say, Hey, thanks for the suggestion.

13:12 I test it with users. And it turns out that what we already have, um, works better. So I'm going to stick with that for now.

13:18 Um, something else where this is really useful, um, is if you have suggestions from people who speak other languages, um, so booking.com when I worked there, I believe there was 43 or 44 languages, um, and Adidas.

13:32 Um, I think they had 25 languages. And of course, if I spoke 44 languages, I'd be the head of UN or I'd be running Eurovision or something like that.

13:40 Um, I obviously don't speak them all. So when someone comes to you with a suggestion in Spanish or Italian, or any language that you don't speak, um, it can be tempting to say, well, they speak Spanish, so they know best I'm going to change this copy, but actually you can set up the experiment, um, and

13:57 run it that way.

13:59 And then you can see without having to know, um, the language yourself, whether it's an improvement or not. So that's why I would strongly suggest.

14:06 If you do get suggestions from people about copy in a language that you don't speak, um, just to run a test and see how it goes rather than just changing it immediately.

14:15 Um, of course the only exception is if it's clearly offensive, like it's just completely wrong. Um, there was one example@booking.com.

14:25 I won't say exactly what it was. Um, but someone had mistranslated something and it was extremely bad. And the speaker of the language came up to us and was like, you need to change this immediately before someone sees it.

14:37 And when they explained why we changed it straight away, but if it's just like a preference or I think this would be better then for sure test it rather than just changing it, um, automatically.

14:46 So the next thing I'm gonna speak about is getting involved. Um, you know, when you joined a new company, when you are starting a new position, um, it's quite overwhelming.

14:55 There's a lot going on. There's a lot to learn and it can kind of stop you from getting involved with things.

15:01 Um, I'm talking about joining stand-ups or joining meetings, or, um, looking for projects to get involved with because you're probably quite busy with onboarding and just getting to grips over everything and remembering people's names.

15:13 Um, but I would say as much as you can, without completely overwhelming yourself, do try and get involved as much as possible.

15:20 Um, what this will do as well as giving you more insight into the product and how the team works. It will also introduce more people to you and that, okay, now we have this UX writer.

15:32 I don't need to write the copy myself whenever I have, um, a challenge that involves copy.

15:36 I have a task that involves copy. I know I'm going to go to them rather than kind of doing it myself.

15:42 And you can also, um, of course everyone's work. Style is different, but what I've found from working with lots of UX writers over the years is that the sooner you can get yourself involved in the process, the more chance of success you're gonna have the higher chance of success you're going to have.

15:57 Um, it's very common within companies that are new to UX writing that they do the whole flow. They do all the design, all of like the project management, and then they come into the last step and they're like, okay, cool.

16:09 Now just fill in the copy. And I mean, this can work, but it's much better if you're involved right from the start, um, you can give your insight straight away and then you can impact the actual design and how it looks and how it feels immediately without having to work around kind of the restraints

16:25 that have already been put in place.

16:28 Um, so we touched on this a little bit earlier about how you react to mistakes. And I can tell you that everyone who has ever been a UX writer has, at one point, done something bad and something that they think about when they're trying to go to sleep at night.

16:42 Um, I can give you an example of one of mine. There is unfortunately more than one example. Um, this was when I was working@booking.com and I was trying to do a variable, which is when you make, um, a number appear in your text, or you make a destination appear in your text, for example, um, and our

16:59 variable for a number was brackets N U M end brackets. And I made a typo and I accidentally wrote bum, and then this went live and there are millions of people on our website seeing we have bum hotels in Barcelona.

17:16 Um, very embarrassing. I fixed it extremely quickly. Um, and I kind of had a couple of beers that night to go over it.

17:23 But after that, I was much more careful when I was checking my variables and checking my spelling. Um, and I just kind of laughed it off and said, yep, that wasn't great, guys.

17:33 Don't worry. I'm never gonna do that again. Um, and like I said, everyone has done this at some point and it's actually quite a good bonding experience to ask people about the worst mistake they've made, the worst thing they've accidentally put live.

17:45 Um, and I can promise you as long as you learn from it and you react well to it and make sure that you don't do this kind of thing again, nobody's going to hold you responsible for that.

17:55 Um, another thing that I think is very important to talk about, and it can be awkward for some people is to celebrate your own success.

18:02 Um, when you are a solo UX writer and there's not people that really understand the craft, um, perhaps they don't really understand so much what you're doing and why it's so important.

18:12 Um, so as we talked about a little bit earlier with the testing, um, if you have an experiment that you've run and you've increased conversion by 5% or 6%, or you've managed to get a thousand new users with your signup campaign, whatever it is, don't be afraid to share this with people and explain why

18:29 it's cool and why it's exciting, um, this firstly as likely just mercy to your role and, um, yourself at the company, but also it can inspire people, um, to learn from what you've learned and to make positive improvements to the product.

18:43 In other ways. Um, I know when I was at booking, um, we would always share like our big successes with each other, um, because we all worked on different parts of the website, different parts of the platform.

18:54 And very, very often, um, someone would do something on the website. It would work. So we'd try it on the mobile app and it would work there.

19:01 We try it on the tablet website, even on the offline copy and all of the successes, they can be strung together across different parts of the platform.

19:09 Um, so don't be afraid to do that if you have two or three other, um, UX writers in your team, or if you start off by yourself and then someone else joins also, don't be afraid to call out their successes.

19:21 Maybe you, um, feel more comfortable doing that as well, rather than talking about your own, um, because it's really going to boost their confidence and it's going to boost other people's confidence in you and the craft.

19:34 And the last thing I'd like to talk about, um, is maybe not an obvious one.

19:38 Um, but a lot of the time when I've changed jobs, um, I relocated not just cities, but also countries. Um, so like I said, I've worked in Amsterdam, I've worked in London, I've worked in Stockholm, I've worked in Cardiff, I've worked in lots of different places.

19:52 And, um, when you are new and you're really focusing on your job and trying to do the best possible work and get to grips with everything, you can kind of forget that, oh, I'm in this super cool new place.

20:04 Um, you know, it's very rare that you move somewhere for a job just because you want the job. Um, it can be that you want to change your lifestyle.

20:12 Um, see somewhere new, like live somewhere new and exciting. And I definitely forgot that for like the first four or five months that I lived in Amsterdam.

20:20 I didn't really go out and see the city at all.

20:22 I was just really focused on, okay, how do I do this job properly? How do I make sure that people kind of are respecting me and, um, that I'm not going to get fired when my initial contract is up.

20:34 Um, so do take the time to do that. And you know, this can be going for beers with your teammates going for dinner with them, or just taking the time every, every weekend or a couple of evenings after work, just to go for a walk and look around and find restaurants and bars and gyms or whatever it might

20:50 be that you like. Um, cause this is going to take a lot of pressure off you in the work environment as well, because it's going to mean that your whole life is not revolving around work.

20:59 You've got other things to do and to look forward to.

21:02 And that takes a bit of the stress off, you know, of really wanting to be perfect and everything and that everything that you do really revolving around work and that you sought out your work-life balance and you don't forget the reason that you move somewhere.

21:16 Um, so I know this was quite brief. Um, I covered some things, but there's a lot more that could be talked about.

21:22 So I'm very happy to answer any questions you might have now. Um, also you can find me on LinkedIn. Um, my, my full name is Ben Dudley.

21:31 You can search for me on that. Um, and ask me any questions that you might have. I'd be more than willing and very happy actually, to discuss any questions that you have.

21:41 If you are actually a UX writer, who's just started and you're having trouble with stuff, um, I'm more than happy to help you and try and give you some of my experience and advice as well.

21:51 So, yeah, please let me know your questions. I'll be really happy to answer them. I think I've said I'm happy about four times in this, uh, in this patch, but I live in Stockholm and today it's 20 degrees for the first time in about six months.

22:03 And anyone who's lived in Sweden can tell you that everyone is a hundred percent happier when the sun finally comes out after winter.

22:09 So yeah. Um, let me know your questions and I'm ready to answer.

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