After reading “The Art of the Error Message” by Marina Posniak & Tamara Hilmes, I noticed some great points being raised that I thought would be interesting to examine further. In summary, the article talks about the nuances in creating a helpful and user friendly error message. Some great points that she brought up were:
- Be clear in what went wrong
- Suggest a next step
- Figure out the tone you would like to use
Be Clear In What Went Wrong
A pet peeve of mine has been receiving error messages and not understanding exactly what went wrong. Vague messages such as “an error occurred” or “you are not eligible for this offer” don’t allow the user any insight as to why the error occurred and how they can fix it. This can often be the difference between a user continuing or giving up. Posniak adds that although the message will be slightly longer, the added information will make it much clearer for the user. Changing “could not load page” to “Network connection is offline, please connect and try again” can go a long way in terms of helping the user get to where he or she wants to go as quickly as possible.
Suggest a Next Step
When creating an error message, after telling the user what went wrong and why, you need to give them an actionable resolution to their problem. This could be a link or button that gives the user a direct path to their next step. For example, telling a user that an app is out of date gives an insight as to why the error occurred but doesn’t give them anything actionable to fix their problem. This is as easy as adding a link to the bottom of a message to give the user quick access to whatever updates they need to make.
Finding the Right Tone
An error message is also a great way to convey your brand’s voice. The attitude and language that you use is very important and should vary depending on the situation. For example, if you are designing an error message for a bank, the tone of the message may be more serious than if you are designing one for a dating website. One great tip for conveying the right tone is asking yourself how the user might feel in this situation. For a stressful or serious issue, a comical tone would likely be inappropriate.
Through reading this article, I found that these few key elements go a very long way in user experience and can be the difference between a user giving up or continuing to try and fix the issue.