Good microcopy in the wild: Picnik

Flickr gets a lot of (well-earned) kudos for their copy. It’s snappy and fun, clear without being instruction-manual starchy. Flickr is my go-to answer when people ask what sites I think do copy well.

But I often overlook the photo-editing site Picnik, which is a shame. In my head I lump it together with Flickr, because Picnik’s tone is simpatico with Flickr’s. They work together like George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh.

One example: When you’re saving an edited photo to your computer, Picnik gives you 10 choices for JPG compression, labeled 1-10. JPG compression? Sounds boring. But Picnik’s copy gives each selection its own personality, which helps even someone who says “jay-pee-gee” instead of “jay-peg” make an informed decision.

The default file size is 8, which Picnik describes like so:

JPG Compression Quality: 8 A sweetspot of really good quality and file size. File size: 608KB

A sweet spot? Sweet! I love this choice already. But what if I bump it up to 10?

JPG Compression Quality: 10. Best quality, huge file size. File size: 1.13MB.

Best quality, huge file size. Hmm. “Huge” is daunting. What if I nudge it down a bit? Say, to 5?

JPG Compression Quality 5. Meh quality, small file size. File size: 296KB.

Meh, you say? That’s not so great. But if 5 is “meh,” what are 1 or 2?

JPG compression quality: 2. Big, ugly blocks of pixels, teeny file size. File size: 162KB.

JPG Compression Quality 1. Barely recognizable as your photo, microscopic file size. File size: 130KB.

The great thing about all of these messages is they use vivid descriptions to make the tradeoffs clear. If I’m not an image pro — and if I’m using Picnik, I’m probably not — “ugly,” “barely recognizable,” and “best” explain image quality and “microscopic,” “teeny tiny,” and “huge” explain file size in a meaningful way. “130 KB” and “1.13 MB” don’t. (Note also that the selection they nudge you towards — 8 — has the most positive description. All nice, no scary.)

The rest of Picnik sounds just as good. They’re a great model for executing a consistent voice from their promo copy to their microcopy.

(Though I wouldn’t have made “sweet spot” into one word.)