UX writing for digital cockpits: Three practical tips for automotive

Jun 3, 2022 by Olaf Preissner


A few words in the right place can completely change the outcome of a project.

The relatively young professional discipline of UX writing has been gaining popularity on the web recently, and rightly so. Writing for your target audience can create a customer experience which is more human, engaging and enjoyable. This can build brand loyalty and reputation, while driving engagement and interaction.


Write the right words for better sales


In his 2009 article Writing Microcopy, Joshua Porter demonstrated how a few well-placed words could increase user experience and boost online transactions. Porter had developed a checkout form for an e-commerce project, but some users were struggling with the form and unknowingly entering incorrect information into the billing address field. As a result, up to 10% of online transactions failed, causing a significant financial loss.

Porter’s solution was ingeniously simple; he wrote a single sentence next to the billing address field, "Be sure to enter the billing address associated with your credit card". The errors disappeared immediately and all sales were processed successfully — a win for the company and a better experience for users.

And that’s why UX writing is so important… and can be quite simple. Let’s take a look at how UX writing applies to the automotive industry, and discuss three tips for getting it right.


Why automotive brands could benefit from UX writing


Think of the in-car experience in digital cockpits. While the focus of human-machine interface (HMI) software is mostly on the actual software, the design and the optimization of user flows, OEMs could stand out by paying more attention to display texts and UX writing.

The advancing HMIs in digital cockpits allow users to interact with vehicles in increasingly intuitive ways (mainly through touchscreens). New functions ensure safer, distraction-free and pleasant driving, but they’re also a great opportunity for UX writing to make an important contribution. The touchscreens of HMIs enable display texts which can significantly increase the intuitiveness and pleasant use of a vehicle’s digital functions. At the same time, written text has the advantage of adding a human touch to user interfaces — it builds a relationship between driver and vehicle when both are speaking the same language. So, it’s important to get the written text right… and that’s where UX writing comes in.

UX writing for digital cockpits can make a positive contribution at every point of the driver’s journey in the system. The support of user orientation, (e.g., when scrolling, navigating or clicking) is especially important. On the touchscreens in the vehicles, there are a number of ways the user can interact with the system; buttons, login fields, and success and error messages etc. are some of the most common user interface elements. They all hold potential for UX writing to work in your favor.


Three tips for successful UX writing for digital cockpits


#1 Cancel buttons

The importance of buttons is immense. In order for the user to achieve their intention, they have to press a button. The button turns an intention into a concrete action.

Buttons are often used to kill processes, for example to cancel an accidentally started navigation. If a poorly written message like the one below appears on the display after the user presses cancel, it can confuse, distract or annoy the user:

‘Cancel navigation?


This message is not meaningful enough. The two button options, don’t provide the driver with a clear message of what exactly is to be cancelled or undone. For cases like this, it’s more helpful to use yes and no buttons and elaborate on them in the text:

‘Are you sure you want to cancel route guidance?


#2 Success message

Success messages signal to users that they’ve achieved exactly what they wanted to. Users expect such messages after confirming their email address or recovering a password for example.

Success messages have two main functions: First, they confirm to the user that everything is fine. Second, they guide the user to take the next step.

These familiar examples have huge untapped potential for UX writing: "Your email address was successfully verified", "Registration was successful", or "Your password was successfully recovered".

These messages may seem fine, but it's better to address the user who performed the action rather than the completed action itself. State clearly that what the user wanted to do happened, but simultaneously introduce the next step for you and your users. For example, let them know what's happening now, what they can do next, and what they can do again.

"Your new password has been saved, you can now log back into your account and use the XYZ service".

#3 Error message

It is best if drivers never receive error messages. But even with the best software, not everything runs perfectly. Now it depends on how the error message is worded. An error message interferes with the interaction with the car that the driver wants to perform. Therefore, it should provide real support.

To do this, three points should be met. First, explain clearly and in simple terms that an error has occurred and what exactly the error is. Second, offer a solution so that the driver can continue to perform the desired operation. Third, overall, make sure the delay is as pleasant as possible despite the circumstances.

After describing the problem and the reason for the error as accurately as possible, suggest as to how the problem can be solved. If it cannot be solved at the moment, write what can be done and to whom it can be addressed. Write error messages that are specific to the problem that has occurred. If you can't formulate specific messages (due to budget or development constraints), at least phrase them in as positive and friendly a manner as possible.

Don't sound cold like "this field is mandatory." You should also not indicate that the user has caused an error: "Error in one or more fields" or "The action failed. Try again". Also, you should avoid using technical terms so that the driver understands that you are not writing something like "Error 5f93AB occurred".

It is always better not to blame the driver, but to describe the problem in a service-oriented and friendly way and then offer a solution. You can do this elegantly by telling the driver what is possible, rather than emphasizing what is not possible at the moment.

So instead of writing, "The phone number is invalid," write, "The phone number should have 10 digits." Instead of: "The message alert is not offered by the provider you have chosen". It would be better to write: "Your desired news alert is offered only by the following providers".


UX writing can future-proof an automotive brand


In summary, UX writing offers great potential to improve the automotive user experience, especially in digital cockpits, quickly and cost-effectively. A text with the right message in the right place is implemented much faster than if a feature had to be redesigned at great expense. This can mean a stage win in future market competition.

As you have seen, there are a number of user interface elements, such as buttons, success and error messages, where it is very well known how targeted UX writing works and contributes to a positive user experience. In addition, UX writing for digital cockpits also offers a lot of potential for your brand.

Hitting the language of your target audience with a sophisticated tone of voice that matches your brand's values will make the in-car user experience seem much more human, engaging and enjoyable. Especially in light of the unstoppable advance of voice assistants, it makes sense to also adapt the display texts in digital cockpits to the language of the voice assistant, the brand itself and the target group. Drivers have never been more personally inspired by a brand in the car.

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