Writing for interfaces

Written by Cihat Gündüz

Description: The words and phrases you choose for your app matter. Whether you’re writing an alert, building an onboarding experience, or describing an image for accessibility, learn how you can design through the lens of language and help people get the most from your app. We'll show you how to create clear, conversational, and helpful writing and provide tips for applying these techniques to your work.

  • “Design through the lens of language”
  • All Apple devices greet with “hello” (like the original Mac)
  • An app with the words removed looks empty (proves the point how important words are)
    • Structure, timing and feeling people have are important, too
    • Make writing an early part of your design process, not something you fill in later


    • Consider information hierarchy (order of elements in a screen)
      • People don’t read text in a screen in order
      • e.g. a large bottom button is seen faster
    • Know what to leave out
      • Don’t show too much text, focus on the purpose of the screen
      • e.g. “iPhone Needs to Cool Down” screen with information about details why it is and a large emergency button
      • Aim for simplicity
    • Have a purpose for every screen
      • Both for a whole flow and all screens, have a clear purpose
      • Don’t use multiple screens for one purpose
      • Represent your apps values (like privacy) and show throughout


    • Think of a conversation (= your app having a conversation with user)
      • e.g. changing alarm schedule provides “just next day”
      • or the sleep screen says “Sleep Well”
      • iPhone asks when you’re awake early “Turn Off Alarm?”
    • Develop your voice and vary your tone (according to situation)
      • Game is friendly, Banking app is secure and trustworthy etc.
      • e.g. “it looks like you’ve taken a hard fall.” → “I’m OK” – being calm in a stressful moment
      • e.g. “You set a personal record for your longest daily Move streak: 35 days!” – exclamation point used to sound motivational – but don’t overuse, can be silly
    • Know what to say
      • “No inhale…” “and exhale” in Breathe app
      • “8 mins to Home”, “Take Audubon Ave, traffic is light” → clear what to do next


    • Think outside the app
      • Are your users likely to be home, or in airport, cooking?
      • “It looks like you’re working out.” “Record outdoor walk” → you’re on the go, keep it simple
      • Summary of sports has more details, as you’re home
      • When taking a panorama, words appear right below arrow, because that’s where you’re looking
    • Write helpful alerts
      • e.g. “Allow Weather to also user your location …” on app start
      • “Remove iPhone?” with “Remove” and “Cancel” buttons, mark destructive buttons red and put to left
      • “Confirm Cancellation” → “Cancel” | “Confirm” → hard to know what to do – detail text isn’t really helpful
      • Better to be explicit: “Cancel Subscription” and “Keep Subscription”
      • and make clear which plan instead of “this” plan
      • Never label alert buttons “Yes” and “No”, be more specific
      • Don’t use things like “Oops”, “Sorry” and “Please” too much
      • Create useful empty states
        • Give helpful hints, or party in an inbox for example
        • Use an appropriate tone
        • Make clear what user can do instead of being too playful


      • Write for everyone
        • Speak to the audience, but don’t leave people out
        • Idioms or humor can be easily misunderstood
      • Be responsive to localization
        • Consider that words can get longer, or need more vertical space
        • Space of text should be able to grow or adjust width
        • Also consider things like calendar day abbreviations
      • Design for accessibility
        • Consider dynamic type settings, VoiceOver
        • Have thoughtful and descriptive text
        • Consider symbols & images as well
        • VoiceOver has descriptions for emojis
        • provide context and position
        • Be thoughtful to include everybody – e.g. “person” instead of woman
        • Last tip: Read your writing out loud (helps find repetitive words, how it sounds, naturality, etc.)

      Missing anything? Corrections? Contributions are welcome 😃

      Written by

      Cihat Gündüz

      Cihat Gündüz

      📱Indie iOS Developer, 🎬Content Creator for 👨🏻‍💻Developers. 👾Twitch-Streamer & ▶️YouTuber.