UX writing project: Hymn, when writing and design form music

A backstage tour of the process of writing (and designing) content for Hymn, a music streaming app.

Hymn was my first, self-driven UX project. The idea struck back in mid 2018 when I spent my college break in Padang. At first, it was more like a mini, collective project I kicked-off with a graphic designer friend. I composed the copy for its marketing material while he designed the interfaces—the first model of Hymn. It was aesthetically pleasing, but only decorated with visual elements without any actual mechanism. And, unfortunately, we also had to terminate the project because, ye, the holiday was over.

Fast forward. Later in Bandung, I rewrote the original idea and started the whole project from scratch. In the meantime, I taught myself some design basics and read a lot of “how-to Adobe Illustrator for noobs.” Despite the hassles, it helped me to design my copy mockup-ed with more realistic visuals.

Also, after I explored more about UX writing, I tightened this project on the app language system instead of the UI. In this post, I’ll show a few samples of microcopy I cooked for Hymn interfaces, along with the documentation.

The overture

I realise that there is a strong connection between humans and music. We get engaged in the realm of sounds and rhythms—it could take shape as our day-to-day commute playlist, the rain patter on the roof in the early evening, or soft lullabies that bring us into a warm, sweet dream.

Back then, we used to place a record on a turntable or put a cassette into its deck to experience music. It was cool and, let’s just say, cinematic. But, now, when we constantly get supplied with new devices and new platforms, we also get our new ways to interact with music. These days, when everything is a snap, music becomes even more like compact magic. With a single, simple command, we can play any song from anywhere—whether we have our player right in the pocket, on the working desk, or in the kitchen.

For me personally, music is my everyday life, an essential part. By the time I wake up from sleep, the first thing I would do is tapping on a playlist on my phone. Filling the room with acoustic hits or hip-hop beats until I can drag my body out of bed.

Don’t you dare question my assumptions

I’ve been both an Apple Music and Spotify user for years. Both give different content, looks, and experiences. While Apple Music offers a premium subscription model, Spotify provides a freemium service with ads and limited access to particular features. Though I would consider that I’m satisfied with both platforms, I also thought that there were still a lot of areas that can be improved.

I wasn’t trying to design a better version.

On the other hand, I tried to reimagine how a streaming platform can evolve to be not only a content provider, but also a medium that actually connects to the listeners.

When I looked back to Hymn early models and gave it a real thought, I spotted errors. The writing style was inconsistent and lacked personality. Before now, I didn’t set the principles for voice and tone, labels naming, or even grammar. I wrote the copy naturally by instinct, over brute force to please my own assumptions and overlooked the in-the-field research.

Lessons learned. So, this time, I renewed my resources by collecting information from small and targeted interviews with friends.

Afterward, I found out that my respondents prefer to

  • listen to certain music (like “guilty pleasures”) alone and always have playlists-to-play following their moods
  • share playlists to chat groups or Twitter, to recommend and get recommended
  • get to know what’s trending, both in their regions and around the world
  • care about “how it looks” since they spend quite some time in the app to browse songs, create playlists, or sing with lyrics

Even a product should know how to talk

The real challenges were understanding users’ needs from a writing point of view, extracting the context, then converting them into usable textual content.

After I examined those insights, I underlined two key attributes: personalisation and sharing activity. In my opinion, the two contribute significantly to users’ overall experiences and preferences, whether they want to remain private or be open about their music. And, here, UX writing plays its role as a guide that introduces or informs the users about relevant tasks.

My main objective was to let users understand how the app works at ease. Painless. And, since the users can be everyone, the first rule of thumb I set was aiming for all reading levels. Moreover, to teach Hymn how to communicate consistently across its interfaces, I set the voice and tone as well as other mechanical principles.

Voice

To ensure Hymn communicates in harmony, interacts as who instead of what, I gave it a voice.

Clear and concise. Accessible messages are, always, on top priority. Therefore, copy should be able to deliver easy-to-perceive context with no ambiguity and can convey universal interpretations.

Human. To interact humanlike with no robotic impressions, copy should have emotional touches. In certain circumstances, using (appropriate and mindful) humor can steer an interaction to be less-awkward and robotic.

Functional. Write in purpose to help users understand what and how to perform their tasks. Strive for functional messages for either conversational or instructional copy.

Tone

Music is universal, for everyone. Therefore, to blend in anywhere, Hymn speaks in a casual, neutral, and warm tone. It could be the way a family talks at a dinner table or creatives discuss a project in a café.

Casual. Write without a sense of formality, but be polite and respectful.

Neutral. Communicate using everyday language. Cut double meaning words or phrases and avoid those with negative connotations.

Warm. Users want to feel welcome and comfortable, so express sincere enthusiasm and empathy.

Creating personas to represent users

To get and develop a better understanding of the users, I created personas. One way I approached that was by looking around. I portrayed people in urban communities and their lifestyles—their jobs, the places they would visit on weekends, how they immerse themselves in music, and so on. Then I characterised them by music genres and listening habits, as well as what they need and the problems they could face along the way they use a music streaming app.

Generating microcopy

After I had the manual, I started working on the microcopy. I created decks using Google Docs to compare and narrow my options, as well as document them. Apart from those, copy decks also held me from getting lost while working on the mockups later.

Next, I installed the microcopy to interfaces.

Last, Hymn in its final (and static, definitely) forms.

My takeaways for upcoming projects

Stepping into this newly discovered domain, I’ve learned several things.

Start creating. I can easily get lost in imagining what I want to do instead of actually doing it. Because of that, I often ended up feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. However, from this project, I hacked my way to convert ideas into concrete works. Starting from collecting all any-size ideas, pinning them on the mind-board, sorting and sorting, then choosing the one to be executed and focus on that one.

Document the process. I didn’t really think about documenting my process before. There were just random files in drives, not documentations. Later, when I worked on UX, I would likely lose track of my progress if I didn’t manage my workflow well and document my creative process. I started to be more aware of that by not undervaluing even the seemingly less-important tasks, like naming files.

Empathize. Just like music, users settle different preferences and languages ‒ I would call it “by genre.” While I worked on Hymn, switching perspectives helped me to understand whom I create content for and find the intersection between the brand and those who interact with it.

I’ve been wandering around to find the most practical frameworks for UX writing, and, at last, I found out they’re all contextual. Some would start from the users at the very early stage, while others prefer to establish the communication system first. Since Hymn is fictional, I had to start from the brand setups, adjust the guidelines, then write-design-research in parallel.

Anyway, thanks for reading this far!

I compose words for digital products.