James Governor's Monkchips

On Soup, Microcopy and User Experience

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I drink my coffee at Taylor Street’s garden shed in Shoreditch. It has truly great coffee. So good in fact, I have reengineered my coffee habits around it – these days I only have two espressos a day, in the coffee shop, one when I get to work, and one after lunch. I don’t drink coffee in the office.

One thing I noticed when I started going to grab a ‘spro after lunch was that Taylor Street’s food looked pretty good. So i tried it. You can’t beat tasty soup for lunch. Sadly the company’s chef recently took its fantastic cheese toastie for £2 off the menu (shame, because it made a perfect compliment to the soups), but Taylor Street can’t get everything right, I suppose.

But back to the point of the post. One day I noticed that Sarah, the manager, had done something extremely smart. Note the simple one liner on the blackboard – tomorrow’s soup.

Two words, 13 letters, one simple message, setting up an expectation likely to bring the customer back to the store the following day. UX maven Joshua Porter calls this “microcopy“.

The smallest bits of copy can have the biggest impact. Microcopy is small yet powerful copy. It’s fast, light, and deadly. It’s a short sentence, a phrase, a few words. A single word. It’s the small copy that has the biggest impact. Don’t judge it on its size…judge it on its effectiveness.

Its easy to get carried away when thinking about User Experience – its all about the bells and whistles – or look and feel, to get carried away with overblown visuals.

I have spoken in the past about Poor Internet Apps, as a palliative to the hype around Rich Internet Apps. I like text. So do you. Teens are choosing Blackberries and sending thousands of texts a month (so much for apps). Delicious, Twitter (before media appeared in the stream), command lines. Many developers want text editors not IDEs. Text works. Copy works. Sometimes the right words can be worth a thousand pictures.

Great advertisers know the awesome power of microcopy. Just Do it. Coke is it. Guinness is good for you.

Developers and designer can and should learn from the ad industry. Am i saying we should try and create false needs? Nope – but can we guide users through an experience more effectively with a few well chosen words? Absolutely.


  1. Nice. Thanks for sharing the image for the #AdobeUX keynote opener slide. I’ll be sure to munch-on the source of inspiration.

  2. > Many developers want text editors not IDEs. Text works. Copy works.

    Agreed, and the good news is that in the past decade IDEs have tended away from the awkwardness of diagram-based interaction (eg UML) and towards lightweight structured text interaction that does not take any of the freeform benefits of text away (originated by tools like http://groups.csail.mit.edu/graphics/lapis/). Given that we are grammatical creatures, I wonder when we’ll see more progress on the front of the Conversational User Interface pioneered over a decade ago by You Don’t Know Jack.

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