© 2021 Autodesk, Inc.
Voice and tone

A lot of people say “voice and tone” when they really just mean content. Voice and tone are both key aspects of the way we use words in our communications, but each one has a specific meaning.

Think of voice as your personality: It stays pretty steady regardless of the situation. But your tone changes depending on your audience or context.

The Autodesk voice

If voice equals personality, then we can describe our voice using the Autodesk brand attributes. These are Smart, Trusted, Open, Real and Inspiring.

A lot of guides use a This, not that framework to describe their attributes. But this isn’t always specific enough to help us understand how those attributes translate into day-to-day design and content decisions. Instead of a yes/no model, we use a continuum to show what it might look like to have too much or too little of that trait.

Here’s a look at each attribute with bumpers for too little and too much, followed by a more detailed dive into each one.

Autodesk voice continuum

Smart

Be the expert. Help people learn key concepts in language they understand, but don’t talk down to them.

  • More than anything, we have to know what we’re talking about.
  • We have to help people learn the things we know.
  • We should also treat them as professionals and empower them without belittling them.

Trusted

Build trust with accurate and consistent language. Be precise. Keep it as short and simple as possible.

  • Tell the truth.
  • Use consistent terminology, patterns, and style.
  • Break down complex concepts and processes.
  • Get to the point and get out of the way.

Open

Welcome people in, connect with them as collaborators, and help them work in the ways they want.

  • Talk to readers, not about them. Address them as “you,” not in the third person.
  • Look for opportunities to show people why or how things happen.
  • Be helpful and honest. Help people understand what they can do, what they can’t, and why.

Real

Speak like a person. Pay attention to context, and communicate with the appropriate tone.

  • Be authentic. Show the world there are real people behind our products.
  • Be conversational, but not overly casual. Use plain language.
  • Be positive, but don’t overpromise or upsell.
  • Admit mistakes.

Inspiring

Show people what’s possible, encourage them to strive for more, and help them achieve their goals.

  • Help people learn by doing. Show them actions that they can take or ways to improve their work.
  • Don’t oversell or gush, or else you’ll discourage people and turn them off.
  • Think beyond the words. Sometimes it’s better to show an idea than to write about it.

Using tone

While our voice should be consistent across the customer experience, our tone shouldn’t.

Just like interacting with people in your daily life, you’ll need to change your tone depending on their needs, emotional state, and the situation. From our website, to emails, to in-product messaging, to support content, our tone needs to shift to meet the customer in their current context.

Tone Scale

This tone scale provides a detailed description of writing in different tones and when to use them.

Celebratory

Motivational

Educational

Informative

Helpful

Supportive

Compassionate

Let’s look at more specific descriptions, guidelines and examples for each of these situations.


Celebratory

Congratulatory, appreciative, and welcoming

Sample context:

  • First time in a new product
  • Welcome emails
  • Completing a major task
  • Upgrade or renewal confirmation
  • Finishing a tour or walkthrough
  • New feature or product announcements

Audience state of mind: Engaged, accomplished, ready to continue

Audience goal: To start working or move to the next step

Autodesk goal: Inspire goodwill, show thanks, encourage more activity

General writing guidelines**

  • Don’t overdo it. Only celebrate truly valuable accomplishments or milestones.
  • Speak in the first-person (“we appreciate” vs. “Autodesk appreciates.” Better yet, just say “Thank you”).

Motivational

Inspiring and encouraging people to continue or try something new

Sample context:

  • Website homepage and product overview pages
  • Customer stories
  • Introducing a new feature in the product
  • Onboarding instruction
  • Tips/calls to action
  • Getting started videos

Audience state of mind: Curious, excited, likely distracted

Audience goal: Possibly interested in doing more or trying something new, but may just want to keep doing what they were doing

Autodesk goal: Inspire or encourage new action, promote our brand/products

General writing guidelines

  • Show what’s possible, but don’t oversell.
  • Keep it high-level with key concepts and ideas. Use an instructional, informative or helpful tone for the details.
  • Keep it active. Use imperatives and calls-to-action to engage the audience.

Educational

Descriptive, useful explanations about how and why to do something

Sample context:

  • Contextual learning and tooltips
  • Product overviews and details
  • Subscriber emails and how-to articles
  • Wizards or in-canvas tutorials
  • Getting started videos/articles
  • Release notes/descriptions

Audience state of mind: Interested, curious, impatient

Audience goal: Quickly learn more about what they’re looking at, or how to do something

Autodesk goal: Help people understand what something is, what it does, and how

General writing guidelines

  • Stay positive. Focus on the things you can do, rather than the things you can’t.
  • Help people understand not what to do, but also why.
  • Write in layers–deliver information on a need-to-know basis that anticipates the user’s experience.

Informative

Reference, conveying information in the most clear and concise manner

Sample context:

  • Button or field labels
  • Feature lists and system requirements
  • Licensing information
  • Billing emails and messaging
  • Action confirmations
  • Dialog headers/instructions

Audience state of mind: Neutral, busy, preoccupied

Audience goal: Quickly understand what’s needed or what’s happening and move on with the least amount of effort

Autodesk goal: Convey the important information, then get out of the way

General writing guidelines

  • Be concise and direct.
  • Avoid being too friendly or casual.
  • Don’t upsell, push or exaggerate.

Helpful

Explanatory, describing why something happens or didn’t happen.

Sample context:

  • Disabled action/button message
  • Troubleshooting articles
  • Confirmations and warnings
  • Learning and help articles
  • Simple error messages

Audience state of mind: Curious, unsure, impatient

Audience goal: To learn more about how something works, what they can do or what happened so they can keep working

Autodesk goal: Help people understand how something works or what to do next, then let them get back to work

General writing guidelines

  • Talk to the audience, not about them. Use “you” and “your” to keep it friendly.
  • Explain things in a friendly, conversational tone, using plain language.
  • Avoid jargon, technical terms, or legal buzzwords–unless that’s what your audience specifically expects.

Supportive

Responsive, reassuring, encouraging people who may be confused or frustrated. May be person-to-person interaction.

Context:

  • Error messages
  • Failure states
  • Support and forum responses
  • Describing bug fixes

Audience state of mind: Frustrated, anxious, possibly annoyed

Audience goal: Understand what’s happening so they can get back to work. Getting unstuck when they can’t find an answer

Autodesk goal: Improve a potentially negative experience, help people get back to work quickly

General writing guidelines

  • Don’t just describe the situation. Help people understand why something happened and how to resolve it.
  • Clearly explain steps, contexts or actions.
  • Use “we” when speaking about Autodesk’s role or actions. If you’re writing or responding as yourself, use “I” to make a personal connection.

Compassionate

Expressing sincere sympathy or apology for a difficult situation. Helping people understand what happened and why. Making a personal connection.

Context:

  • System errors
  • Asking customers to take actions that are difficult or time-consuming
  • Messaging about crashes or software malfunctions
  • Messaging about data loss or loss of work

Audience state of mind: Upset, concerned, annoyed

Audience goal: Understand what happened and how it affects them, their work or their company. Find out what to do/what happens next

Autodesk goal: Show empathy, apologize and improve a negative experience

General writing guidelines

  • Show empathy. Be open and human.
  • Explain what happened or what’s happening.
  • Be clear about solutions or next steps.