Deciphering words on the interface - Qualitative research

How does Writing on the Interface and Microcopy influence the way we tell stories and behave? How does a user perceive 'Microcopy' during and after their interaction with their everyday digital devices?

5 experiments with ‘Microcopy’ – Cultural Probe.

Goals of this project –

To Understand Microcopy in the literal sense. Removing Microcopy from the digital space and placing it in a conversation/ sentence/ verbal function. Examining connotations behind the words - reader's understanding of it and hoping to find new insights through these exercises. 

The participants are briefed on what ‘Microcopy’ means [the words /phrases that help users navigate through any digital interface] and given 5 exercises that lets them notice microcopy and use it in specific scenarios. 

Complete Documentation pdf.

1. Random page


The participants were given a page of text and asked to mark all the words that evoke emotions/ thoughts/feelings in them and find an obvious way to mark those words.


Each participant found a way to represent their chosen words– erasing the other words/sentences, tearing, or scribbling over the words. All of the participants had picked mostly the same words that resonated with them while reading the entire text. They chose a word or group of words based on the clarity it provided to the sentence and the meaning of the passages.

2. Click Tap Touch


The participants were given two cards with words taken from different app/interfaces pasted on them. The group was then told to create a sentence/scenario using these words.


This exercise helped me understand the nuances behind the words from the digital space and their representations in verbal communication. Some words that are commonly attached to specific online platforms were used in the same digital appearance. For Instance, the word Premium would mean several things from a commodity that has a superior quality or its application in finance. Here the word was used with a Music application Spotify, "I do not own Spotify Premium."

3. Less is more


The participants were first asked to read through a passage and rewrite it to a maximum of 10 words without changing the intent of the sentence. In the next step, they were asked to show a friend/colleague their rewritten sentence and ask their comment on the nature, structure, and understandability of the shorter sentence.


The participants found it hard to reduce it to 10 words and still keep the paragraph's actual intent. Because of the limitation of words - the new sentence seemed rigid, limited, and grammatically incorrect. The participants felt that with more words, the sentences could sound polite and still be able to convey the exact meaning.

4. Reel real words


The participants were first asked to pick a digital interface and write down a set of interactions in linear order. They had to note every word they clicked on to go to a new page or a result or any other interaction. Based on each word they clicked - they had to consider the literal meaning of the word/what action it prompted them to do or a feeling they had while interacting.


The participants wrote down literal meanings/actions/feelings of the word/Microcopy. A few pointed out unnecessary steps to an action or words that did not make sense in that particular interaction. They associated brand names with a few words. Some results showed that the words did not provoke any feeling or seemed invisible because they were used to the interface (muscle memory).

5. Quick talk


The participants were asked to document their interaction with a stranger in the forms of words/sentences or drawings. The communications to be observed could be in any form – digital, verbal, non-verbal.


The drawings of the conversations felt brief and direct, and words were only added for better understanding. Short phrases from the interactions were noted for clarity. Virtual conversations with chatbots looked similar to scripted dialogues of cashiers/retail shops.