Monday, February 24, 2014


Ok now that I have your attention let's discuss error messages.

I've hate error messages not because of any rational reason but more of an emotional one.  It brings me back to being a kid and doing something wrong and being scolded for it.  "David that's wrong."  Well that didn't teach me anything except that I did something wrong.

Remember the early days of Microsoft Windows and the error messages they would display?  You know the ones, the popup message box with the red circle and a white X?  I still have nightmares about it sometimes - just kidding.

Now compare that to an experience with someone who is teaching you something new, lets say, how to ski.  How effective will that person be in getting you to learn by "yelling" at you that you are doing it wrong.  Successful teachers point out what's being done wrong, and help the person to correct the behaviour themselves.

In my professional life I've been involved in many different projects where customer facing systems were being created and these error messages were taken as simply a fact of life and not as something that needed to be looked at more than just facts.  I've always been in favour of making error messages not only human, but also fun, informative and educational.

An example, a banking client wanted to redo their ATM (automated teller machine) user experience.  So as part of the initiative, I suggested that in addition to using language that the average person uses, they should also use humorous text for when there were problems with an ATM (because we all want our money NOW) and to actually give information that helps the user solve the problem they are facing.  So in the case of the ATM not working - the error message would say something like "I'm really sorry but for some reason I'm not working properly" and then providing a listing of the 3 nearest ATM's.

Studies have shown that we human beings are more open to information when it's shared in a way that makes us smile, helping us to relax and process the information without the regular negative emotional association.  

7 Of The Best Error Messages On The Internet


  1. Very good sample of human vs. machine interaction! Every error could be an opportunity to create something helpful.

  2. Here's how we implemented this recommendation :-)