UX writing

The ultimate product voice and tone UX writing guide

Learn what product voice and tone is and why it should matter to every UX writer.
voice and tone ux writing
In: UX writing

What's product voice and tone in UX writing? I’m going to explain it using an example of one of my all-time favorite TV characters… Michael Scott.

If you don’t know Michael Scott from The Office, he’s this guy:

michael scott gif

If he looks familiar, you might know what’s coming. If you don’t, you’re in for a treat ☺️

What’s voice?

If you haven’t seen The Office and aren’t familiar with the intricacies of Michael Scott, he’s the manager of the Scranton, Pennsylvania branch of a paper company called Dunder Mifflin. And his management tactics are… goofy.

michael scott gif

The kind of goofy where you feed the ducks full pieces of bread and make rap videos for your employees.

michael scott gif

If I was to describe Michael Scott’s personality, I’d describe him as:

  • Goofy
  • Blunt
  • Caring
  • Devoted
  • Optimistic

These are characteristics of Michael Scott’s voice. A voice is someone, or a company’s, personality and embodies how they talk. It’s what makes every person, and company, sound and feel unique.

What’s tone?

Now, Michael flexes his personality based on whom he’s talking to.

When he talks to “corporate,” he’s more professional, careful about what he says, and conservative.

michael scott gif

But when he talks to Ryan, one of Michael’s most beloved employees, whom he’s awarded “best looking” in the office to multiple times, he’s high-energy, charismatic, and unfiltered.

michael scott gif

These are examples of Michael Scott’s tone. Tone changes based on whom you’re talking to, but stays within the same personality, or voice.

Why voice & tone matter

Michael Scott is a made-up character. The writers of The Office followed guidelines to make sure Michael Scott’s character was consistent and predictable, so fans could know what to expect, and find joy in the dependability of his weirdness. They defined his personality before Steve Carell, the actor who played Michael Scott, was even cast.

By having such a thorough definition of whom the character Michael Scott was, and who he wasn’t, the writers were able to deliver dependable entertainment fans could depend on and trust.

Now, imagine Michael Scott’s personality changed season to season. The first season, he’s a goofy, cringy, uncomfortable guy you can’t help but feel affection for. But in the second season, they made him all rough and tumble. Maybe you quit watching, because they changed Michael Scott so much, you lost what you once got out of the show.

This is why voice and tone matters — when done consistently, it creates a personality people can relate to, depend on, and gain something from, which builds a trust-backed relationship.

On the flip side, when voice and tone is inconsistent, the company seems inconsistent, and that gets people feeling nervous, on-edge, and seeking alternatives.

How is this relevant to UX writing?

Just like Michael Scott, the best companies have a distinct and consistent voice and tone. Companies, from Coinbase to Adobe, use voice and tone to:

  • Stand out from the competition
  • Build relationships with users
  • Build trust and credibility

As an example, one of the most beloved voice and tones from the tech world is Slack:

product voice example

If you’ve used Slack, you’re probably familiar with their fun, friendly voice. And that was very intentional. In fact, Slack has entire guidelines on how to write for the company. Those are called voice & tone guidelines, and they’re what make the best voices consistent.

Here a line from are Slack’s stupid-simple voice guidelines (you can read the whole thing here):

By outlining what the Slack voice and tone is, Slack became and has stayed the beloved, friendly chat app.

Now, compare that with the personality (voice) of Slack’s competitor, Microsoft Teams:

product voice example

Quite a different approach. And that makes sense, because here’s how Microsoft defines their voice (you can read the full guidelines here):

product voice example

Microsoft and Slack have different values, and based on those values, they’re going to attract different users. A company’s voice and tone reflects those values, and in turns, helps attract the right users for each company.

Happy UX writing 🖖

Written by
Slater Katz
As founder of The UX Gal, my mission is to make learning UX writing fantastically-simple and landing a job easy. I've held UX writing jobs at companies like Netflix, Fitbit, Verizon, Afterpay, & more.
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