Keep product labels neutral

When following a recipe you are focused on achieving a specific goal: I want cake. You typical follow multiple steps. Some folks memorize those steps easily. Others will read every instruction twice. Others will wing it and don’t mind the taste of burnt cake at all.

In a user experience (UX), labels are signposts that tell users what they are looking at and provide clues as to how it will work. Labels should be clear, concise, and neutral. Neutral means the labels don’t draw too much attention to itself, or make too many assumptions about what the user is trying to do.

Examining a cake recipe shows us some ways to keep labels clear and easy to read.

Avoid brands in labels

Users don’t need branded terms in labels. They are distracting and they can imply a specificity that isn’t necessarily required. Consider a cake recipe that looks like this:

# Ingredients
- Franklin Farms Eggs
- Lucerne 2% Milk
- King Arthur All Purpose Flour

It’s too specific. It also feels a little smarmy, but we see this in software products all the time.

Avoid value-propositions too

Users also don’t need buzzwordy value-props. These are appropriate in marketing copy to differentiate features. Within the product, however they are distracting and often disconnected from the user’s immediate goals. Imagine this in a recipe:

# Ingredients
- Farm-fresh cage-free eggs
- Ultra-filtered 2% milk
- 100% employee-owned King Arthur all purpose flour

Unless it settles an ambiguity, skip this.

Don’t make labels Overly-technical labels

Users don’t need all technical details or capabilities either. Remember that when the user is engaged in a task, they are not ready to learn complex concepts.

Technical details are appropriate for before a user gets started or in the help section.

# Ingredients
- Grade AA, CA SEFS compliant eggs
- 2% grade A, pasteurized, and from cows not treated with rBST milk
- Enriched, bleached, prestified all purpose flour

Of course, if detailed specifications are critical for success, include them early in the experience, but make sure to use simpler versions through the experience.

Less is more

The best labels are clear, concise, and neutral. A user baking a cake needs to know the basics.

# Ingredients
- Eggs
- 2% Milk
- All purpose flour

The shorter the better since these labels will be used in the method too. In the method, you can remove modifiers (like 2% or all purpose) to keep it short and scannable.

"Separate eggs, then add to the flour. Add milk."

Compare this to:

"Separate Grade AA, CA SEFS compliant eggs, then add to the dry ingredients. Grade AA, CA SEFS compliant eggs should be added one at a time."

But business software does this all the time:

"To enable **Buzzword Feature** go to **Widget-brand Setting Power Settings** > **AI Trendy Toggle** and choose Activate **Omnichannel routing**."

They’d probably jam a damn trademark sign in there if you let them.

Keep labels simple. The user needs less information than you think. When in doubt, think cake.

Up next Sorry no pizza Content design vs visual design
Latest posts The definitive post on whether chatGPT will take your job A Smallish Book about content design How to make Confluence less horrible I am a writer designer The new clothes fallacy Work is like a hill Badge of dishonor Ceci n'est pas un poubelle This sign is a crime Beware the lure of consistency Do not water Never, ever use the term microcopy You need three things to design content Permanently fixed Assembly instructions for a side table Extraneous labels, ignored conventions The double diamond model Don't have an emergency here Product tours that don't suck Quickly edit text on the web How content designers can get the most out user interviews Let's be reasonable How to derisk trial experiences Turn around, bright eyes We could be zeroes Content design vs visual design The recipe approach to writing labels Sorry no pizza 6 truths for first-time public speakers Do not enter, exit only What the %&@! is content design