Error messaging for fun and profit

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Presentation given at NEOUPA's World Usability Day festivities about writing effective error messaging.

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  • 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

    1. 1. Captured by Paul Sherman<br />http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsherman/<br />
    2. 2. Error Messaging for Fun and Profit<br />(Possibly just profit)<br />
    3. 3.
    4. 4. Captured by Paul Sherman<br />http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsherman/<br />
    5. 5. What’s a good error message?<br />Avoiding the awkward conversation <br />
    6. 6. Captured by Paul Sherman<br />http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsherman/<br />
    7. 7. Why are bad error messages so bad?<br /><ul><li>They waste users’ time.
    8. 8. They make users feel ashamed.
    9. 9. They make users angry.
    10. 10. They turn your users into someone else’s users.
    11. 11. They show up in peoples’ presentations on bad error messaging. With your logo. </li></li></ul><li>How do you write a good error message?<br />
    12. 12. Be Kind<br />
    13. 13. Be Clear<br />
    14. 14. Be Prescriptive<br />
    15. 15. Some examples to think about<br />Please enter a ten-digit telephone number.<br />Please enter a valid email address (like billg@microsoft.com).<br />We’re sorry, we didn’t recognize that credit card number. Please check it and try again.<br />
    16. 16. The Best Error Message of All<br />
    17. 17. Why do we get it wrong?<br />Things that get in the way<br />Technology<br />People<br />Limited perspective<br />Limited understanding of the user<br />Resources<br />Time<br />Attention<br />
    18. 18. In summary:<br />Design error-free forms. <br />When you can’t, be:<br />Kind.<br />Clear.<br />Prescriptive.<br />
    19. 19. Questions?<br />Feel free to holler anytime:<br />Abigail Plumb-Larrick<br />abigail@plumbinformation.com<br />@plumbinfo<br />

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