How can stand-up comedians help designers write better UX Copy?

Nitya Kumar explores how the methods used by comedians could be applied in designing user experiences.

7 April 2022

According to UX Planet’s, editor in chief, Nick Babish, “every word in your app is part of a conversation with your users”. These conversations tell stories, and who’s better at telling stories than stand-up comedians? Right?

If you’ve ever gone to a stand-up show, or watched a sitcom, you’ll probably be familiar with that feeling of coming out relaxed, at ease, or even of having your problems solved. Isn’t the purpose of using digital products the same? This makes me think, can the methods comedians use to write acts, help designers write better UX copy?

A method Kevin Hart uses is anamnesis, which means to recall something from the past. For example: in a set about his middle school, Hart recalled him sitting in math class and stated, “2 +2, I don’t know what that is.” The audience (including me) laughed as we could all recall our past of struggling at math.

I realised anamnesis could also be used in UX writing, and in ways, it is already being used in the digital products we see. For instance: Morning brew is a media company that sends five-minute newsletters for users to read along with their morning coffee. For its loader symbol, instead of saying “loading” it may say “brewing coffee”; this indicates that something is in the works and also helps users recall having a cozy cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. Through the use of “brewing coffee,” Morning Brew may create a positive association between its brand and its users.

I’ve also witnessed the laugh-till-you-cry phenomenon when comedians use punchlines. For example, in Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix show, Patriot Act, Minhaj debunks Asian stereotypes. Minhaj says, “I don’t want to be a doctor.” His parents respond, “But, what will people think?” Minhaj says, “I don’t want to marry so and so.” His parents respond, “But, what will people think?” Very soon, “But, what will people think?” becomes Minhaj’s brand. It is this punchline that makes the audience laugh.

So, can punchlines like Hasan Minhaj’s help our UX copy? The answer is yes. We know The New York Times, for example, uses “We seek the truth,” as its punchline. It is highlighted across all of its digital products. It helps keep its mission transparent with users and creates a strong identity.

“I have seen mobile apps like Tinder use therapeutic humour in their UX copy.”

Nitya Kumar

While anamnesis and punchlines are great to establish our product’s identity, comedians can also help designers write UX copy that increases user trust. I recently watched John Mulaney’s stand-up and while I feel like I’ve given that video one million views myself, I realised Mulaney uses therapeutic humour to gain his audience’s trust. For example: In his Netflix is a Joke series, Mulaney says, “I’m 35 and I’m still thinking, when am I going to get big and strong?” The audience bursts out laughing as they relate to the feeling. He increases trust by eliminating fear. The audience no longer fears looking a certain way at a certain age.

I have seen mobile apps like Tinder use therapeutic humour in their UX copy. For instance: to eliminate the fear of initiating conversation with someone you have matched with, instead of saying, “start conversation now,” Tinder says, “Give them a compliment and watch what happens.” With a single piece of text, the company can make users feel more comfortable using Tinder, they now trust the app and are more likely to use it.

Gaining your audience’s trust doesn’t stop at therapeutic humour. Some of the most well-known sitcoms use euphemism. Euphemism is a mild word that is used in place of a harsher word when explaining something uncomfortable. Recently, I rewatched the tv show, Friends. I watched the scene where Joey was stealing an award. Joey says, “I’m not stealing it. I’m accepting it on her behalf. As in, I’m behalfing it.” Behalfing it is a nicer way of saying “I’m stealing the award.”

We can pull a Joey when writing UX copy for error messages. Designer Meg Long talks about eliminating fear in error messages. For instance: instead of “nope, try again” to say something went wrong, “get help here” is nicer and more effective since it’s pointing the user to where they can get help.

Hence, from Kevin Hart and John Mulaney’s Netflix specials to analysing Friends, we designers can improve our UX writing skills, by stepping into the shoes of comedians. Whether it’s through anamnesis, therapeutic humour or euphemism, comedians help us write UX copy that gives our design a voice, and increases user trust. Both of which make for thoughtful conversations and memorable stories for our users.

And that’s my time.

Share Article

Further Info

About the Author

Nitya Kumar

Nitya Kumar is a South Asian product designer based in New York. She studied communication design at Parsons School of Design. Her work can be found in several publications including UX Planet and UX Collective. To step outside her comfort zone, she enjoys learning and watching her favourite stand-up comedians perform. 

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.