UX Writing for Physical Goods: Golden Penny Semovita Case

The How-To that became How-Not-To

Semovita. Image from http://www.peakmilk.com.ng/uploads/editor/images/10.jpg

Bring desired volume of water to boil in a pot” … “If you like, add a pinch of salt” .. else read on..

Semovita is one of the popular Nigerian swallows. It is being preferred by a lot of people because it’s quite close to pounded yam but with far less stress of preparation when compared to pounding yam.

I tried making Semovita (from scratch) for the first time yesterday and while I had doubts in my head on how smooth the execution would go, I placed enough trust in the How-To-Guide usually found at the back of the packaging of such edibles.

I got the 1kg Semovita and headed to the kitchen in readiness to prepare Something Light for the night. I ended up preparing something strong, something hard, something thick… in fact something wrong. I really do not want to be judged by the works of my hands, so I won’t be uploading the pictures of the Semovita here.

But was it my fault?

I followed the directions on the packaging to the letter, I mean exactly: you know the way you copy the exact Angular Bootstrap UI datepicker code into JsFiddle and it still refuses to work, yes that kind of exact. While still worrying my head over why bad things happen to good people, I took my phone and called Gbemisola Akinlade, one great chef like that. Surprisingly, what she explained to me was totally different, and I also talked to a couple other people, and they all gave me directions that seem more practical than what was written at the back of my lovely Semovita packaging.

So How Does UX Come In?

Contrary to the misconception that UX is solely concerned with how apps or websites work, any product that has any form of user touchpoint has the potential to benefit greatly from this interesting field of user experience. This is inclusive of the physical products we encounter on a daily basis.

Two fundamental things form the basis of a user experience: the copy and the design itself.

It becomes quite imperative at this stage to define what UX is, since the term has been horribly used of recent. Don Norman confirms this claim, and this is how he defines UX:

“User Experience is everything that touches upon your experience with a product, and it may not even be near the product, it might when you are telling someone else about the product.“. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BdtGjoIN4E)

User Experience Design today is such a broad term, neither those within the field nor those on the banks of it can say for sure where its edges are. User research, content strategy, information architecture, visual design e.t.c are just some of the areas of specializations in User Experience Design that extend to physical goods.

The reason why the information provided by the Golden Penny team wasn’t sufficient in helping me achieve my goal was because there is an obvious gap in the writing of the meal preparation. This user frustration can be tied to a fail in the UX writing of the Semovita product.

The Lean Method

The concept of lean manufacturing first emerged within the manufacturing ecosystem and it preaches optimal production without sacrificing productivity. Work (product or service) is being done from the perspective of the customer or user of the work. It becomes interesting how we find ourselves with many software methodologies today, this is just a reinforcement that the only difference between a physical product or an app is the medium.

Real Life is not distant from App Life

If I use the Uber app to book a taxi, I want to be able to easily select location, destination e.t.c and on the long run, have an overall great user experience.

If I buy a Toyota Corolla, I just want to be able to easily see my fuel guage, my speedometer, change the gears, e.t.c and on the long run, have an overall great user experience.

The concept of breaking down these user actions into short executable features from an end-user perspective is known as a user story.

The User Story: Making Semovita

Following this template:

As a <role>, I want <feature> so that <reason>

We have this:

As <Tobi the bachelor>, I want to <read the how to guide> so that I can <make the Semovita myself>.

An Agile user story should be short and be written by the brand in the language of the user so that it is clear to both the business and the product team what the user wants and why s/he wants it.

The How-To that became How – Not-To

Below is the list of instructions that comes written on the Semovita packaging

  1. Bring desired volume of water to boil in a pot
  2. If you like add a pinch of salt
  3. Pour desired volume of Semovita into the boiling water. Stir and mix well until it is thick.
  4. Cover pot and heat for up to 1–2 minutes, then stir and mix well again until it becomes smooth, firm and consistent.
  5. Serve with any soup of choice

Usability Testing

We know our target audience, so we can take a sample from them, test our present How-To and spot where improvements can be made. My experience last night obviously shows that the how-to isn’t structured well enough. Testing with about 5–15 users as suggested by NNgroup will give us enough insights on how we can re-write these meal preparation instructions.

User Journey/Flow

While the list of steps seems to be in order of actions to be taken, the format of the how-to can be laid out in a better form.

Let’s take a look at this:

  1. Bring desired volume of water to boil in a pot

The most important words here are boil, water and perhaps volume.

We can leverage on the Gestalt Theory of Proximity in choosing how these words are arranged.

Though largely subjective, I would have the strongest action word show up first.

  1. Boil your desired volume of water in a pot

Since we are not given a specific measurement, the word amount is more relatable in this context than volume.

  1. Boil your desired amount of water in a pot

Step 2 is an optional step and does not necessarily require a separate line, so we have this:

  1. Boil desired amount of water in a pot (add a pinch of salt if you like)

UX Writing : What to Write

The concept above touches on the “how to write” aspects of our how-to-guide. The underlying issue that prompted this article in the first place is a big component of the “what to write” aspect. Insights that fuel what to write are best gathered during the research and usability testing phases of our product.

Majority of the people I reached out all have a similar concept on how best they think Semovita should be prepared. The general pattern here is this:

  1. Make Semovita into a paste with cold water
  2. Boil desired amount of water in a pot (add a pinch of salt if you like)
  3. Pour paste into boiling water and stir consistently.
  4. Cover pot and heat for up to 1–2 minutes, then stir and mix well again until it becomes smooth, firm and consistent.

The issues with the original instructions were that they missed out on including the more effective ways that users have found out themselves. This new method proved to be more effective than what was written at the back of the packaging.

Also, the illustrations at the sides of the instructions had a spoon on it, but in reality a pestle is what is recommended to achieve the desired results.

In Conclusion

Writing for ads is very different from writing for user experience. Great copies like the good old Bank PHB banks will walk on waters ad truly evoke our emotions, but the essence of writing for a good user experience isn’t mere emotions evocation, we need to be able to connect a user story to our user goals, understand what they want, why they are here, and help them transit from “I’m here to do this” to “I’ve achieved this” using the most relatable, efficient and simplest words possible.

So when coming up with any form of writing for the purpose of creating a good UX, it is important to test that these copies are foolproof. Good designs complement good copies and vice-versa.

Let us all bring the desired volume of writing to make this Semovita 💪💪!

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Author: Akindunjoye Oluwatobi

Collect by: uxfree.com