Designing helpful error messages

Ratomir Jovanovic
Chief Executive Officer at inordo

Designing helpful error messages

Error messages and their accompanying fixes should be carefully crafted as part of any user experience (UX) design project. Users want to be able to quickly and easily figure out what went wrong and how to fix it when they encounter an error or problem while using a product. A well-crafted error message should explain the nature of the error, how to fix it, or what the user should do next.

Integral part of the user experience

Error messages are an integral part of the user experience, and their design and content can significantly impact a user's perception of the product or service. Good error messages are clear, concise, and informative, and they provide users with the information they need to understand and resolve the issue at hand. On the other hand, bad error messages can be confusing, vague, and frustrating, and they can significantly detract from the user experience.

From a UX perspective, it is important to create good error messages because they serve as a crucial line of communication between the product or service and the user. When an error occurs, users want to know what went wrong and how they can fix it. Good error messages provide this information in a clear and concise manner, which can help users get back on track quickly and efficiently. This is especially important when the error is severe or critical, as it can help users avoid losing important data or experiencing other negative consequences.

However, creating good error messages is not always easy. It requires a combination of technical knowledge and user-centered design principles. On the technical side, it is important to understand the root cause of the error and how it can be addressed. On the design side, it is important to consider the user's perspective and provide information that is clear and easy to understand. This may involve using language that is simple and straightforward, providing clear instructions for how to resolve the error, and using helpful visual aids such as diagrams or images.

In addition to helping users understand and resolve errors, good error messages can also help improve the overall user experience. When users encounter errors, they can be frustrated and annoyed. Good error messages can help mitigate these negative emotions by providing clear and helpful information. This can help users feel more in control and more satisfied with the user experience.

In conclusion, it is important to create good error messages from a UX perspective because they serve as a crucial line of communication between the product or service and the user. By providing clear, concise, and informative error messages, you can help users overcome setbacks and achieve their goals more efficiently. This, in turn, can improve the overall user experience.

When designing error messages and solutions from a user experience perspective, it is important to keep in mind the following:

  • First, avoid unnecessary complexities and technical jargon by keeping your language simple and direct. Instead, go for user-friendly simplicity by sticking to common phrases and terms. Users may lack technical expertise; therefore, it is important to use language that is understandable by a wide range of people.
  • Don't just give a generic error message; instead, give as much detail as you can about what went wrong and how the user can fix it. Users may then have a better grasp of the issue and be more assured in their ability to find a solution.
  • Don't just tell the user what went wrong; instead, give them a solution or the next steps they should take. Users may then feel more in charge and equipped to take action to fix the problem.
  • To make sure your error messages are clear and helpful, you should test them with real users. This can be useful for finding potential points of confusion or ambiguity before launching the product to the public.
  • Instead of simply displaying an error message and halting the user's progress, consider using the error message as an opportunity to assist the user in recovering and continuing on with their journey. This can make the user feel more supported and less frustrated.
  • Create user-friendly error messages by keeping them in mind: Communicate in a way that is approachable and useful, rather than technical or intimidating. Having an error message written in a friendly tone can encourage users to seek assistance.
  • You can help your users out even more by including links to relevant resources and support channels in the error message itself, as well as in any accompanying documentation. As a result, users may feel more encouraged and equipped to fix their problems on their own.

As a whole, a positive user experience relies on thoughtfully crafted error messages and workarounds. In the event of an error, providing users with clear, actionable information can greatly reduce their level of frustration and facilitate their recovery.

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Ratomir Jovanovic
Chief Executive Officer
Fifteen years of expertise designing digital products. I've worked with both Fortune 500 organizations and great startups.

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