How does this message make you feel? Let’s knock amusement and schadenfreude off the list.
Watch your tone. No scolding. Avoid words like failure, fatal, illegal, catastropic, and eternal damnation. Imagine that the user is your grandmother, or a kitten. Gentle, gentle.
What is the problem? From your perspective, what triggered the error? From the user’s perspective, where do they need to refocus their attention? Most of all, be transparent. Don’t obfuscate.
What needs to be done? What does the user need to change? Clear doesn’t work without prescriptive.
Build your forms so your users don’t have to guess what you want (what’s a CVV? Should my phone number have dashes? Do I format my date with the day or the month first?) and don’t make things unnecessarily hard. My personal hobbyhorse is forms that won’t accept a hyphen or an apostrophe in the name – I’m sure there are O’Malleys and D’Angelos out there who agree.
Error messaging for fun and profit
Captured by Paul Sherman<br />http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsherman/<br />
Error Messaging for Fun and Profit<br />(Possibly just profit)<br />
Some examples to think about<br />Please enter a ten-digit telephone number.<br />Please enter a valid email address (like email@example.com).<br />We’re sorry, we didn’t recognize that credit card number. Please check it and try again.<br />