Error messages that make sense improve user experience

We’ve all been there when ‘the computer says no’! Nasty error messages popping up after 10 minutes of navigating a series of steps is REALLY frustrating. However, as a systems developer or project manager it is so easy to forget to change the error messages the end user sees.

Today’s world has become so much about user experience (UX). Mobile internet usage has rocketed and much of what we consume is through neatly packaged apps. We are becoming so used to one click access to the information we want that any delay getting there is perceived as poor experience.

Recently Easyprojecthub has been helping a client who is developing an app for cyclists. When we first got hold of it to do some testing it looked absolutely fantastic, had great functionality and was intuitive to use – lots of ticks in the user experience box. However, every single error message or user notification said ‘Alert – no data’. This left us not knowing whether the app was broken, didn’t work with our model of phone or didn’t have anything relevant to share with us. Our feedback to our client was ‘sort out those error messages otherwise users won’t stick around!’.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the development of a new system and forget all about what happens when the ‘happy path’ goes wrong; maybe a user clicks on the wrong button or there isn’t any information to give them at this time. Well thought out notifications and error messages can drastically improve user experience and can educate them on what they should have done. They can also cover up for issues with performance (for example system speed), limited functionality and a whole host of other things.

Recently I have seen some brilliant examples from picmonkey.com that take it to the next level and have really humorous error messages that actually make me chuckle out loud. They talk about ‘uppity rodents’ when you’ve forgotten to add in your file extension and ‘focusing diffractor beam’ when things are running slowly. This is a great way to go for end user apps that need to deliver fantastic user experience and can be more casual in approach.
For corporate / business IT systems, error messages and user notifications should be viewed as another tool to add value and an opportunity to communicate with the end user.

No matter what your system or app, it’s a good idea to map out all the instances where user notifications or error messages will occur and determine how you can use them effectively. See it as a real opportunity to improve the user experience and knowledge. It’s ok to get creative, but be clear and concise. Get several people to read the messages in context as a sense check, ideally people who have not had experience of the system previously.
Remember, in today’s fast and furious, one-click world user experience is king and error messages are a big part of making it great.

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