Microcopy needs context.

Josh Porter posted a link to a good post on ‘5 ways not to write fun microcopy‘ earlier. You should read it. In fact, go on and do that I’ll wait for you here …

… Done? Good. I certainly agree with the overall message but one particular example caught my eye: no.4 Clearleft‘s 404 page. Now some of you fair readers might know a couple of things about me already but here’s a recap:

1) A while back I worked on the Clearleft site copy (a lot of it has been changed, as with all sites). So I know that this has been their 404 page for a while, and Jeremy Keith was the original author (or quoter?)

2) I blather on about microcopy a lot and in one particular talk I highlight this as a good example of a 404 page.

So, obvious prejudices stated and aside, how could I interpret this page so differently from the other writer (who obviously has just as much experience with microcopy)?
And then it struck me. Context.

Whenever clients ask to look at my work, I send them to the links out in the wild – with the caveat that things change once stuff has gone live and sometimes you’ll have to play with a basket to see my error messages and microcopy in action. I find they just don’t work as well snagged and pasted into a portfolio.

That 404 page works well, because the message is just one part of a bigger construction. There is a main navigation and contact details and a client form all on that page, but you don’t know that if you just read the copy. As I say in that now infamous talk, kittens die feet first in shredders when you leave people without the ability to resolve the problem they have encountered. Take a look through the batshit slides, there are 404 page examples with haiku and, holy FSM, an alarm clock showing the time 4.04. But what makes them lame is there is no escape except the back button.

Clearleft’s 404 page isn’t really microcopy so much to me, although, arguably the “let us know” bit is. But overall it is a valid page, with purpose and instruction and most importantly a completely navigable way of getting the hell out of there. And alright, the message is a *little* obtuse but it isn’t harmful. And, well, Jeremy is a little obtuse ;-)

Anyway, this was one of those classic ‘comment that turns into blogpost ramble’ so for completeness, here is what I posted to the article in question.

While I agree with the overall message, the thing with microcopy is if you take those words out of their context they inevitably look dumb.

As an example, the Clearleft 404 page (number 4) works very well as a whole page, with nav directions and other assistance.

I worked on that site in its last version and, while the 404 page was more Jeremy Keith’s work than mine, it has always been a page that demonstrates a little bit of Clearleft’s personality *embedded* within a navigation that helps you get out of your bind very easily.

A new adventure.

Relly and her space helmet

And so it is time to announce a new adventure for me, one of a few I have in the pipeline. On the 28th February I will be saying a teary goodbye to my colleagues at Headscape as I leave them to settle into my new life as a freelancer / running a teeny-tiny agency, Supernice Studio with my husband Mr.Paul Annett.

I’m looking to add some interesting projects to my portfolio so if you have need for a copywriter or content writer or content strategist or consultant or someone in a spacehelmet to come to your office, please get in touch. Best start is to hop along to our website and go from there. Alternatively rellyATsupernicestudioDOTcom is another fine form of communication and of course, there is always @RellyAB on twitter.

Lightening the load.

January was a month of decluttering. We aren’t done yet by a long way but a good number of large bags have been distributed to charity shops far and wide. My parents are big charity shop fans and often go to other towns to poke about, so to ‘share the love’ and because the lady in our local Oxfam was starting to wonder where we were getting all this stuff they took some bags of donations with them.

What did I learn? I do a lot of wishful purchasing sometimes. Mostly of craft projects. Lord knows I barely have time to scrapbook (something I’m very keen on) let alone teach myself beading, modelling, weaving, face cream making, sourdough baking or knitting ten varieties of yoghurt. And yet the dream persists and I find myself with many more kits on my hand than time at my disposal. Particularly poignant were the cross stitch kits that I’ve been meaning to get around to for years. They’ve gone for the most part. I have embroidery silks; patterns are abundant; my time for hours and hours of needlework is not now.

I read a book on decluttering (Paul brought it home. He will admit to being a packrat but he attracts masses and masses of paperwork to him.) and it had a simple system, similar to my own that I have always used to decide on whether belongings are becoming clutter. The nice thing is it stated in black and white what has always been in my head: It’s okay to let something go, realise you need it and buy it back because that will happen for 1 in 1000 items. I got rid of a cookbook a while back and this week I thought, bum, I could have done with some of those now. I went to reorder – only to find there was now a revised Kindle edition. Perfect, a more convenient format, and still only a few pounds. I guess I never was destined to be a hoarder as such. I’m more easy come, easy go but I need to pick my projects and focus a little more.

I started finding ways to lighten the load of finding or putting away. We have a lunchbox basket now for lunch making things. A library bag for our books (complete with library cards). A large bag for everyone’s swimming things (beach towels, cossies, armbands, money for lockers etc). We’ve emptied out all our dvd cases and put the dvds in two large wallets.

I also discovered that really if I want any decluttering doing, I have to do it and ignore the protest squawks. Case in point: six weeks after bringing it up, our office is still full of unsorted paperwork. I also began to think about using up the stuff we like. About thinning down. Being light of load. Having space for more and it not getting lost.

Still a work in progress.

February is all about lightening the body. It’s no longer baby weight if your baby is 18 months old. Botheration. I’m also getting my teeth fixed A good number of fillings, boo, but some lightening of a different sort too – not to mention of my wallet.. March is already set by necessity. That’s all about lightening burden. More to follow I guess