Voice and Tone Design: What it means to me

Jess
3 min readMay 12, 2021

When I read the very first thing about voice and tone design, I threw a mental tantrum, if that’s a thing. All I wanted to do when I signed up for this was just write. Not plan, not design, just write. Write so people are able to interact with the product a lot easier.

I’ve come to learn that voice and tone design, when done right, makes all the writing that follows easier. You know the rules, you know what to say, how to sound when saying it, and the most important part, how the users feel and act based on what you say to them. It is also a plus if you’re working with other writers on your team. You wouldn’t have to play crazy coach, always correcting the words, explaining why it shouldn’t sound like that, and trying so much not to feel frustrated. Voice and tone design is that important.

Picture this: If you had to talk to the president all day, as his aide, how cautious would you be?

Tell him his breakfast is ready. Tell him there’s been an attack in the south. Tell him he has to make an urgent decision about a financial matter. Tell him ten fighter jets are missing. Tell him Obama is congratulating him on winning a second term. Tell him he’s in charge and every other person is there to help him. Tell him the people love him even if he has to make tough decisions.

What do you think will be different about all the different things you had to say? What do you think will be the same? What you’re saying doesn’t really change, but how you say it does.

Voice is simply the company/ brand’s personality. The “who” behind the words. The character base of any content.

The tone is “how” you say the words. The emotions behind each word.

Your personality doesn’t change because Obama is congratulating the president, but the tone of your voice changes when you’re sharing the good news. Your character doesn’t change because some fighter jets are missing, but the tone of your voice changes when you have to say the hard words. Now think about having to tell a million different people the good news and bad news, and hoping not to sound stupid, careless, or come off as trying too hard.

Depending on what you have to say to your users, the tone of your voice changes often, but the voice in itself, the personality behind the brand never changes.

SCENARIO

You had an appointment scheduled, and you meet Shady today. Shady is professional, polite, and doesn’t waste your time. The day is productive but you have to come in tomorrow to finish the process. The next day, you meet Ruby. Ruby is casual, funny, irreverent, chatty, and keeps asking about your cats. Shady asked for your Identification number, but Ruby is asking for your social security number. You don’t know what Ruby wants because you thought you had turned in all you needed. You seem lost, and Ruby explains what she needs. You then realize that she wants the identification number that Shady had asked for yesterday. The whole process takes longer than planned, and now you’re unsure if they both knew what they were doing. You’re not sure if you’ll come here next time.

See how an inconsistency in voice and tone has affected your experience at the office. That’s the exact same way an inconsistent voice and tone on a website or app can affect a person’s experience each time they visit.

Voice and tone design reflects on all aspects of your content. It’s as important as the UI copy your users see, and all the other factors they don’t get to see. In subsequent posts, I’ll write a step by step guide to designing a functional and usable voice and tone guideline for your brand.

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