Voice and tone

Just as products should look and act consistently, they should also speak consistently. We speak with one voice and vary our tone depending on situational context.

Table of contents#


Voice#


Our design principles apply to the words used throughout our products to ensure that language seamlessly integrates with visual design. We apply these principles to the product voice with language-specific guidelines.

Rational#

Clear and understandable

  • Ensure decisions about grammar and mechanics are research-informed and tested.
  • Avoid language that’s overly opinionated, funny, or trendy.

Human#

Friendly, honest and responsible

  • Vary sentence style and structure for readability and relatability.
  • Acknowledge and account for users’ emotions.

Focused#

Concise and simple

  • Describe only what’s needed, without unnecessary decoration.
  • Avoid creating new concepts and only name things when necessary.

Tone#


If voice is our products' personality, then tone is all the different ways we express that personality.

Tone can vary depending on the people we talk to, as well as the situations in which we talk to those people. For example, though you have one personality, you might still speak to a family member differently than you would a neighbor. You might also speak to your family member in different ways if they were sad, happy, or frustrated.

The same thing applies to how we talk to users.

Tone is a powerful tool that can both shape a positive user experience for people, as well as clear the air in a negative one.

Tone spectrum#

The right tone depends on a user’s contextual needs and corresponding emotions for that experience, as well as how involved and emotional we need to be in the process.

Think of the tone for any given experience as being on a spectrum:

Tone can fall on a spectrum going from motivational to helpful, helpful to instructive, instructive to reassuring, reassuring to supportive.Tone can fall on a spectrum going from motivational to helpful, helpful to instructive, instructive to reassuring, reassuring to supportive.

Tone guide#

The tone spectrum acts as a sliding scale for considering which of our attitudes and expressions are appropriate for different experiences.

ToneAttitudeFrequency
MotivationalPositive and encouraging

We’re looking out for you and cheering you on. You’ve got this!
Rarely
HelpfulPolite and respectful

We know you’re busy, so we’ll make this brief.
Occasionally
InstructiveNeutral and direct

Here is the information you need.
Often
ReassuringProfessional and reliable

We know you’re worried about this issue, and we’re here to help.
Occasionally
SupportiveConcerned and empathetic

Something bad has happened and we understand how you feel. We want to inform, guide, and support you through this.
Rarely


The points on this spectrum aren’t necessarily binary. For example, the right tone for an experience could be either motivational or helpful, or it could exist somewhere between those points.