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NogginLabs was founded on the notion that custom e-learning design and development is the ultimate horizontal industry. Time and again, each new project, client, and industry proves it. The biggest advantage of the e-learning horizontal is cross-pollinating ideas from two wildly different domains. A restaurant service simulation for iPad may influence a high-fashion online retail challenge. E-learning for financial advisors in a bank could inspire a mobile outreach program for cancer survivors. This variety also keeps the creative folks at NogginLabs fresh. Fresh learning ideas and designs come from a set of constantly changing constraints.

The voice that leads: how to write a great e-learning user interface


The voice that leads: how to write a great e-learning user interface

Geoff Hyatt

A great user interface is not only a feat of design but also one of language. When you arrive at a website or access a game menu, action prompts, directional text, button labels, and other written elements help guide your choices. You read them all the time, but you probably don’t think much about it—and that’s how it’s supposed to be. When we design interfaces, we keep learners focused on an e-learning course’s content by making the experience as intuitive as possible. Whenever UI text appears, several key principles shape what you read to get where you want to go.


Your understanding of how to interact with a screen has been shaped by your experience. For example, you might take it as a given that red means stop and green means go, but these colors do not have the same meaning across all cultures. You learned this symbol pairing from somewhere (probably traffic signals). All of us have a mental model built from our previous encounters with systems that helps us understand what an interface is telling us. How familiar will users be with web navigation? Technical terms? Questions like these help determine if an icon is enough to get the message across, or if directional text needed (as well as what that text should say). Remember not to underestimate your audience--they are probably more likely to figure things out than you may think.


Google’s UI guidelines explain, “UI text assists navigation and discovery. The best UI text is in small chunks that are not as much read as scanned.” Address the user directly with active verbs and present tense whenever you can. Short phrases with simple words do it best. For example, don’t ask, “Are you sure you want to exit the course and return to the main menu?” Instead ask, “Return to menu?”


In addition to being brief and clear, UI writing should also be naturalistic. It should sound like something a person would actually say. If someone tells you he doesn’t need your help carrying a suitcase, you might ask, “Are you sure?” You would probably not say, “Please confirm your selection,” unless you’re a robot. Don’t write like a robot.


No one likes to scroll through seemingly endless questions or text. A sequence of information or questions is more approachable when it’s distributed across several screens. Progressive disclosure makes these aspects more accessible and engaging while also maintaining the learner’s focus.


You could say, “You earned a 100% score. You have demonstrated ideal product knowledge.” Or you could say, “Wow! You got a perfect score. You’re a product-knowledge wizard!” Just because it’s user interface writing doesn’t mean that it has to be boring. Your UI can have a lively voice that makes basic interactions a little more fun.

Written language is a necessary part of most user interfaces. It succeeds when it’s clear, concise, and approachable. When it's presented with a bit of verve, it can actually liven up the user experience. Make the most of it!