Error messaging for fun and profit

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

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.

Transcript

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