I'm interested to know if using negative words impacts the UX.

Let's say you have a headline for your website. Should you consider "We can help you" instead of "We solve problems" because the word "problems" is a negative one?

Just one word probably won't affect the user on a conscious level but maybe using this kind of language might create a mindset for your business and at the bottom of the page, the user might be affected.

If this statement is true, can we measure this effect on users?

  • 1
    Never be "anti"-anything because the standalone "anything" will always win. Consider "We solve problems" vs. "We create solutions". Not sure if this is a real quote or not but: I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there. - Mother Teresa
    – MonkeyZeus
    Sep 23 '16 at 20:22

This depends. The word 'problems' might be negative, but in the context of 'solve problems' it indicates progress and benefit. negative words at user pain points will probably effect ux.

e.g For a simple forgot your password during login error consider the following messages

"oops, your password does not match with your username"


"your password is incorrect"

even tho it's the users fault for entering the wrong password, it would be better not to point out their mistake. they are already trying to remember their password, thats alot of mental work already.

  • Indeed, I gave a bad example. Maybe the word 'problems' is not as bad as I previously thought because your company might want to be perceived as a 'problem solver'. According to what you said I should understand my user's pains so I can make sure the language in usage won't trigger (negative) emotional responses. Is that correct? If by mistake I happen to trigger such negative responses, what kind of metric do you think I could use to measure this effect? Sep 15 '16 at 16:00
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    overall one of the goals of improving the overall UX on your product would be to reduce pain points. For instance in this experience map or customer journey map uxmastery.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/experiencemap.png look at the 'feeling' row which shows the users feeling at each step. What i'm saying is very important when the user is already experiencing a pain point, not to make it worse. Sep 16 '16 at 2:09

This question is one that requires a proper cultural ethnographic study.

Different words and sentences mean different things to different people of different backgrounds.

Your question depends on the following things:

Are you talking about the UX of a specific product? Is this product available globally? In just one region? How are these words perceived in these regions?

You'd need to conduct proper user interviews with a few people, and maybe even consult a regional linguistics expert to really see.

A/B testing will also help you in this way.

Really the point isn't negative/positive - the point is whether the words help users accomplish a task. ie. big vat of acid probably should use negative words like "will melt face off jumping in would be incorrect and bad" instead of "touching acid could cause problems"


Yes, the wording is essential.

“If we want users to like our software, we should design it to behave like a likeable person.” – Alan Cooper

I do believe that at some level, negative words will impact the image your users have of your software.

How to be sure and how to measure the impact?

One way to do this is by A/B testing different wording versions and record your conversion rates of one or two desired actions. You will then be able to compare different versions and see how effective a good wording can be.

  • When trying to measure the impact by using an A/B test what should I expect if the negative words are triggering a negative emotional response? Average time spend on the page should go down. Same with number of registrations. Something else important I'm missing? Sep 15 '16 at 16:07
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    Record a variety of key information such as time spent, but also try to define what it is that you want your users to do on a given page: this is what I was refering to by "desired actions". A desired action can be a registration, a purchase or a something specific to your application.
    – asiegf
    Sep 16 '16 at 10:29

It could depend the current step in their customer journey, influencing the words that they are looking for, associated to their current issue and the emotion that goes with it.

The word problem might not be the most accurate wording for what you're offering. Users could just be looking for additional information or help, without an actual problem being the case.

problem: a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.

The Emotional response will most likely be based on whether or not the page can actually solve their problem.

For more on this check out Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

"Customer journeys sketch pain points and positive touchpoints, still mostly for in-the-moment, in-app experience. As design becomes more emotionally driven, understanding anticipation and memory will start to demand more thoughtful attention."

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