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Error messages are an art form.

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Adobe Generative Fill Prompt: A toaster covered in red and gold confetti and glitter. Oil on canvas.

The Art of The Error Message

According to Orlaith Wood at The Subtext, the error message is the best test of a brand voice. It should accomplish 3 things:

  1. Admit something’s gone wrong.
  2. Convey useful information.
  3. Ideally not bore people to death.

Wood writes, “If a brand’s taken time to craft its 404 page, it tells me they care about my experience on their website – even the bits I’m not supposed to see. It shows commitment to a consistent brand voice. And consistency builds trust.”

Here are some brands elevating the genre:

  • Skin+Me: “This page has broken (out). But we’ll find the right personalized solution for it soon.”
  • Domino’s: “Ah there it is! We lost that slice down the back of the server years ago. We wouldn’t recommend eating it. But if you click here, we’ll take you back to the fresh ones.”
  • Harry’s: “Oops, we missed a spot.”
  • Marie Kondo: “We’ve been tidying up, and we let go of this page with gratitude.”

Check out more other stellar error messages at The Subtext blog.

Q for You

What's your approach to writing error messages?


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In A Word

Wolverine Boots and Apparel, which has been clothing American workers for 140 years, recently launched a campaign to highlight the achievements of women in skilled trades, like Anna Connelly, inventor of the fire escape, and Mary Katherine Harbin, leader of an all-female paving crew.

The campaign culminates in a petition to add the term “woman-made” to the dictionary in order to “address the historical underrepresentation of women’s achievements and empower more women to pursue fulfilling careers in the skilled trades.”

Wolverine also partnered with home designer and builder Mika Kleinschmidt of HGTV’s “100 Day Dream Home,” as well as Girls Garage, the first-ever design and building workshop for female-identifying youth in the U.S.

The term woman-made was not found.

Ads from the Past

Frito-Lay, 1997

Frito-Lay, 1997


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