September 23, 2020
Hello my name is...

Melissa Sepe-Johnston

• UX Writer at Google by day ☀️
• Dog mom by night 🌙

Favorite Emoji:
🙃
Current Color:
Rose Gold
On the Playlist:
30 for 30: Heavy Medals podcast
Go-to Food:
Pho! 🍜

Hey Melissa, care to share a little bit about yourself?

Hi! I'm Melissa, a UX writer at Google. I live in Jersey City, NJ with my husband and our Shih Tzu/Poodle mix, Lola. Outside of work I like to read, volunteer, and work out. I’m also currently reliving the early 2000’s by watching The West Wing and Gilmore Girls.

Can you tell us what you do as a UX Writer at Google for those who are unfamiliar?

As a UX writer for Google Maps, I design clear, helpful content and experiences for our users around the world.

UX writing is a design discipline that focuses on language. But it’s not just about surface-level UI text — writers can create clarity and meaning at every layer of design, from interactions and structure to overall concepts and strategy.

In general, the UX writing process mirrors the UX design process: planning and research, prototyping and testing, etc. I work closely with interaction designers, product managers, engineers, and more throughout the product lifecycle. My days are a mix of meetings and solo work time. I review design mocks, write strings, attend crits, and write lots of emails.

How did you decide to pursue your specific career? What pivotal moments pushed you to where you are now?

I first learned about UX in 2008, when I was heading to grad school to get a master’s in educational media. I’d had no idea that people got paid to make technology easier to use, but it sounded awesome. I did two UX-ish internships during grad school and was lucky to get a junior role during the recession at an agency called Razorfish (now Publicis Sapient).

I was a UX generalist for almost a decade before focusing on content strategy and UX writing. I didn’t even think about specializing until 2017, when I was leading a large web project that consisted of a design system, new CMS, and dozens of website redesigns. From the beginning, we ran into trouble because our early design assumptions didn’t support the actual content, we hadn’t accounted for all the content work involved, we couldn't get copy approved...the problems were just piling up. Moving to a content-first design process played a huge role in getting the project back on track.

After that, I started advocating for content in design, scoping and selling content activities, and teaching internal trainings. When a Google recruiter reached out, they asked if I was open to UX writing roles, and now I’m here.

What made you interested in your field?

Once I saw how content was helping accelerate and de-risk my team’s projects, I couldn’t picture working any other way. I just wanted to keep experimenting with weaving content into design, especially for digital products. I was super-inspired by the work of Steph Hay, a VP of Design at Capital One and content-first design pioneer [https://alistapart.com/blog/post/content-first-design], and Nicole Fenton’s essay “Words as Material” [https://www.nicolefenton.com/words-as-material].

Any advice on how to stand out and get hired for those starting off?

Every step of the hiring process is a chance to demonstrate your craft. Make sure your resume, cover letter, and case study descriptions are as crisp and error-free as your writing samples. Also, invest in your "soft" skills. Presenting, facilitation, and negotiation are as important for UXers as writing, research, and prototyping.

3 Character traits that would make someone excel in your field

Curiosity. Persistence. Systems thinking.

Most difficult thing about your job?

Prioritizing and saying no. There are always more interesting problems than one person can tackle. I’ve been slowly learning to identify the areas where writing can make the biggest difference, and keep my focus there.

What would you like to say to your younger self?

Be patient and enjoy the journey.

Best advice you've received/heard?

"Better questions lead to better solutions." Also, "Don't go to law school."

Any last thoughts, advice, or recommendations for someone who wants to be a UX Writer?

Keep honing your writing craft, but become as “T-shaped” as you can. Practice visualizing your ideas. Learn how to conduct UX research and test your content. Familiarize yourself with the basics of product management and business concepts. A combination of depth and breadth helps make you a more effective communicator, collaborator, and leader.

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