The Art of Developing User-Friendly Error Messages

Learn how to craft error messages that enhance user experience, turning frustrations into a positive interaction, while providing actionable solutions.

Itumeleng Notsi
May 1, 2023
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The Art of Error Messages: How to Make Users Chuckle Instead of Frustrated

The creation of software inevitably involves error notifications. There will always be mistakes and defects in a program, regardless of how carefully it is planned. However, how faults are explained to consumers can have a significant impact on how well-received the product is. While a poorly written error message can make users angry and perplexed, a message that is effectively written can make them smile and feel better about the software. 

Be concise and clear.

The first rule for error messages is to be brief and to the point. Users should be able to comprehend what went wrong and how to repair it. Instead of using technical jargon or overly complicated terminology, employ basic English that the ordinary user will comprehend.

Use humor, but not too much of it.

Humor can help to relieve tension and make consumers feel better about an error message. However, it is critical to utilize humor sparingly. A little levity can go a long way, but too much might appear unprofessional or condescending.

Customize the message

When an error message seems to have been created just for them, users are more likely to react favorably. To personalize the message, mention the user by name or the action they were attempting to complete.

Give specific instructions

A user needs to know what to do next; simply informing them that something went wrong is insufficient. Give the user-specific, doable actions they may take to fix the issue. Include a link to extra sources or material for help, if at all possible.

Here are some examples of well-crafted error messages:

  • "Sorry, that went wrong." We don't know what, but we're working on it. Please try again later.

This error message is clear and concise, with a dash of humor to help users view it more favorably. The phrase "we're on it" implies that the business is actively trying to find a solution.

  • Oh no, we were unable to locate the page you were searching for. Why not try looking for it instead?

This error message makes light of the situation to uplift the user. Instead of just informing the user that the page doesn't exist, the advice to search for it gives them a concrete step they can take to fix the problem.

  • "It appears that you are attempting to upload an excessively large file." "Please choose a file that is less than 10 MB in size."

This error message is clear and concise, and it includes an actionable measure the user may take to rectify the error. The usage of "it appears" rather than "you did" helps to avoid blaming the user for the blunder.

Error messages don't need to be dry and uninteresting. You may make people laugh instead of cry by incorporating personality and humor into your error messages. Provide concrete answers, avoid criticizing the user, use humor sparingly, and test your error messages to verify they are effective. With a little effort, you can transform error messages from a frustrating experience for users into a good one.

As seen on FOX, Digital journal, NCN, Market Watch, Bezinga and more

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