The Impact of Microcopy in App Design Refining Functionality

18 Nov. 20

The tiny phrases that lead your customers through your mobile applications are extremely powerful. With the creation and placement of one small phrase, not only can you delight your customer, but you can tell them exactly how something works, communicate an important message, or direct them to the next step. But in order for your microcopy to work, it needs to be refined, succinct, and precise.

A Case Scenario With a Finance App: The Bane of Transaction Histories

In launching a new finance app a few years ago, the most common complaint received from users was that they were unable to see their transaction histories. This was a bit mind boggling as we had a transaction history feature already implemented directly into the app, and it was working as intended.

The issue? Our server was only returning 3 months worth of data back to the user. For users who had accounts with infrequent transactions, they were getting no data back as they had no recent transactions. As a result, they thought there was no transaction history feature implemented at all.

The solution? Prioritizing getting the server to support long-term transaction data. However, this would take months to implement and in the meantime, we were still receiving complaints that transactions were not showing. The best way to get around this was to provide a succinct microcopy that explained what was going on.

What we considered using? “There are no transactions yet”. Except this microcopy wasn’t quite true as the message implied that the missing data didn’t exist at all. Rather, it did exist but it was being filtered out because of how “long-term” it was.

So we refined our microcopy to “No transactions in the last 3 months”. After this change, complaints stopped flooding in and customers no longer thought that the transaction history feature was broken.

How Can I Improve My Labels to Reduce Potential Distraction?

While what we did in the above scenario worked out really well, it took a lot of time and attention to figure out a microcopy phrase that would tell the customer exactly what was happening in an accurate and truthful way. The trick in getting it right is that it comes down to understanding how your users think when using your app and then recognizing the opportunities for microcopy refinement. User-testing works great for this.

It is important to understand that every label, message, and description you have in your app will be a potential distraction. So your context-specific microcopy needs to be accurate, updated, and maintained as new features are added to your application.

The best question you can ask yourself to truly see if your app’s microcopy is excellent is “What will they think when they read this & will they read all of this?”

How Can I Improve & Refine My App’s Microcopy?

In order to improve and refine your app’s microcopy, there are several questions you need to ask yourself around user behavior, underused features, onboarding length, and feedback messages. Here are some good starting points.

  • Take a look at user behavior in your app and ask – what do I wish happened more often throughout the app? Or, this could just apply to a specific area of the app.
  • What are the failure points of the app and where are the hotspots of confusion?
  • If a user is aggressively skimming through your app’s interface, how would they experience your onboarding process? Does this lead to confusion?
  • How can you make key messages and explanations more precise?
  • Which features are underused because their wording is unappealing, month, or non-obvious in their message?
  • How many generic verbs are you using and can you make these more thoughtful? Take a look at your “continue” and “okay” buttons especially.
  • Are there places where you can place very short hint phrases? Can you shorten your onboarding tour?

Finally, review the feedback messages you are getting and any errors your app is throwing and for each pain point, ask whether the message that you have is true, clear, and shown well in the app. Spend time on this, because if you clear up these pain points, the user experience is going to drastically improve.

If you are starting a small business you could drop us an email at with your questions on the new App Design Refining Functionality. We will get back to you as soon as possible.

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