Usability tip: Working with errors

  1. When displaying an error, make it obvious so your visitor could quickly see it. An effective approach is to contrast the color of the text (e.g. red against white) or boxed it with red lines.
  2. Don’t use all caps when displaying error messages because this gives an impression that you’re screaming at your visitors.
  3. Do not rely on out-of-the-box messages from your development tools such as your database server and programming language. Remember, these messages contain technical information that are not helpful to your visitors. Catch these kind of messages and tailor them to your target audience.
  4. When an error occurs, allow your visitors to bounce back by providing possible solutions to their problem. For example, if the username and password do not match, tell the user what could be the source of the problem and provide a link to a password recovery page.

2 thoughts on “Usability tip: Working with errors

  1. Regarding tip #3, Rails validation error messages are pretty succint and user friendly and you can override them (with some effort). What are your views on it?

  2. Hi Navjeet!

    The nice thing about Rails is that it originated from people who values usability – the 37Signals folks. That’s why we get user-friendly default messages for model validation. However, there are errors that you should still handle yourself like missing templates and null references.

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