The Branding Tool for UX Writers: The Voice & Tone Guide

Catharina Kelle
Catharina Kelle
December 15th, 2022

What was UX Writing again?

UX Writing – this is the discipline that deals with language as an essential part of user experience and develops methodologies to implement great microcopy for buttons, error messages, help texts, onboardings and much more.

In my last blog article, I wrote a little introduction to UX Writing, which you can read here: What is UX Writing and why we need it in branding.

And what is Voice & Tone?

The UX Writing ground rules clear concise useful – consistent conversational provide good guidance on how we as UX writers can write good microcopy that is effective and does a good job for our users.

But what about the brand voice? How do we use language to convey who we are as a brand, what values we act according to? Do we write formally, or more casually? Are we on a first-name basis or on a first-name basis with our users? And what about humor? Are we funny? And if so, how funny?

With brand-compliant UX writing, we make the interaction with users more personal and human, bind users to the brand and, last but not least, accommodate the company’s goals in the UX.

So that we don’t have to think about how to formulate every error message in a brand-compliant way, there is a methodology for this. And that is the systematic development of Voice & Tone.  In a Voice & Tone Guide, we record how we formulate which content to ensure that we communicate in line with our brand values and address our users at the right linguistic level in every situation.

But what exactly is Voice, and what is Tone?

Voice is the unchanging brand voice based on the brand values. It is the foundation for all communication and its underlying principles are always adhered to.

Tone is the sound we make with our Voice, which makes the Voice contextually aware. It varies depending on the context, medium, and empathy we share with the other person. For example, error messages usually have a different Tone than success messages, because users are in completely different (emotional) contexts.

So a brand has a Voice in which it speaks with different tones.

Why Voice & Tone is important

The Nielsen Norman Group found in a study that language has a measurable impact on how users perceive a brand and feel during interactions. Without a consistent language or voice, communication becomes a problem faster than you think.

That’s why, as part of our rebranding journey, we’ve also created a Voice & Tone Guide that captures how our brand speaks to users, how we communicate online, and how we talk about our work.

That’s why brands need Voice & Tone:

  • Makes interactions with the brand human #ConversationalDesign
  • Integrates business goals/the most important messages into the user experience
  • Makes the brand unique and recognizable
  • Helps users build trust and emotional connection with the brand
  • Ensures that communication is appropriate in any situation
  • Empowers colleagues to write in a brand-compliant manner
  • Ensures that texts and microcopy are accessible to all user groups and that we do not offend or exclude anyone with our language

How did we develop our Voice & Tone Guide?

To create a Voice & Tone Guide for us as a Centigrade brand, we worked through the following To Do list.

Phase 1: The brand

  • Vision: What is our North Star, our ideal, to which we want to contribute?
  • Mission: How do we promote the change we want to see in the long term every day?
  • Values: What are our brand values that we act on?

Output: Who are we? What kind of personality does our brand have? Because only if we know who we are as a brand can we deduce how the brand behaves in certain situations and speaks to users.

Practical tip: Personality tests such as 16Personalities offer a good introduction to the topic of brand personality. Simply fill out such a test on behalf of the brand and see what personality comes out. This can be a good starting point to avoid starting on a blank sheet.

Phase 2: The users

  • What problems and needs does our target group have? And how do we solve or fulfill them as a brand?
  • What motivates them, what frustrates them?
  • What relationship do we want to have with our target group? What role do we want to play for them?
  • How do we want our users to feel when they interact with our brand?

Output: How do we position ourselves emotionally in relation to our target group? In what tonal framework do we want to communicate with them?

Phase 3: The interactions

  • Basic: You or you? Do we gender? Do we use emojis? Etc.
  • On which channels does the brand communicate with users?
  • What different situations/contexts/emotional states do users go through with the brand? Keyword: From success to error messages! It can help to look at the entire user journey and define key interaction moments.

Output: This is where most of the work happens. After we have adjusted brand personality and the initial framework of our tonality to our target audience, we define the following:

  • Content Style Guide as a collection of basic linguistic guidelines (from addressing the target group and gendering to the use of technical terms, English and Denglish – simply everything that relates to our language)
  • Brand Voice Chart: A chart with 3 to 5 adjectives that describe our Voice and further tips and parameters on how to text with these adjectives.
Voice Chart Beispiel leer

Voice chart example (empty)

  • Defining our Tone: Which tones for which content (e.g., blog articles, emails, social media posts), communication mediums (e.g., product/software, website, LinkedIn, Instagram), and situations our users* are currently in (e.g., crisis communication, success stories).

Practical tip: The Nielsen Norman Group defines 4 dimensions in which the Tone of Voice can move. These are the following:

  • Serious vs. Witty
  • Respectful vs. Naughty
  • Formal vs. casual
  • Objective vs. enthusiastic

These 4 dimensions can be thought of as scales on which you can adjust the slider depending on the content, medium, and situation.

The Voice & Tone Guide

We’ve put our Voice & Tone in a guide, as many brands use it, for example Buffer or Shopify. This guide is available to all colleagues who write for the brand.

It is not our goal that all our writers sound exactly the same, and that all our texts seem to come from the same person. What should unite our writers, and thus our texts, is not that they sound the same as if they were written by a robot army, but that users notice that every person who writes for Centigrade represents the same values. We want users to think, “Here’s someone from Centigrade writing.”

Every writing process always begins with empathy. A Voice & Tone Guide doesn’t replace that. But it gives us the opportunity to use this empathy consistently and methodically beyond our content and UX teams.

Resources and tools for further reading

Buffer Voice & Tone

Shopify Voice & Tone

The Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice by nngroup

The Impact of Interaction Design on Brand Perception by nngroup


Want to know more about our services, products or our UX process?
We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Senior UX Manager
+49 681 959 3110

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