Uh-Oh! Your Error Messages are Underwhelming - Carney
The Daily Carnage

Uh-Oh! Your Error Messages are Underwhelming

Error! Try again. Oops! Uh-oh! 404! Something went wrong…

We’ve all encountered errors, redirects, dead ends, and unknown issues on the internet. It can be frustrating. So if your brand’s site, app, or product runs into an issue, what do your users see? These messages can be a big deal for a smooth user experience.

Let’s start with the anatomy of a typical error message:

example of error message

While there’s technically nothing “wrong” with this message, that doesn’t make it right. Here’s what makes it weak:

  • Inappropriate tone. There aren’t many scenarios people want to hear “oops,” so why is it in your important messages? We love clever 404s and gamified Easter eggs here and there, but no one is smiling if they lose their data, time, or patience.
  • Technical jargon. People don’t care about the technical stuff unless you are providing a solution as well. So try to keep it out of the error notice unless it’s relevant.
  • Passing the blame. Focus on the issue instead of blaming the user, the action used in error, or other forces like integrations gone wrong.
  • Generic non-solution. Sometimes we don’t know what caused the error, and that’s understandable. But when you know the cause and leave it ambiguous, you’re not giving users any solutions, options, or confidence.

So let’s make good on your messages:

example of a good error message

Here’s what makes this example better:

  • Say what happened and why. Be clear on what did or didn’t happen. Use images if you have to, too. Then be sure to explain, when possible, why they are receiving the error message.
  • Provide reassurance. Where possible, let them know what was NOT affected by the error. This is especially true for recovered or auto-saved data.
  • Be empathetic. “Please” can go a long way in a stressful situation.
  • Help them fix it. Tell them exactly what to do for solutions to the issue. Sometimes that can mean a simple direction, sometimes it’s linking knowledge base articles.
  • Always give a way out. Don’t leave them hanging if they can’t fix the problem, or if it’s possible the issue could keep happening, provide them with a way to reach out.

Check out the full post by Wix to see more examples and data behind improving your error messages.


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