Your Error Messages Deserve Some Love

Oct 21, 2020 - 3 min read (479 words)

I recently attended a compelling presentation. 😍

In our distributed company, English is a second or third language for most of the teammates. We have a dedicated English teacher. Camille runs training and workshops to help us to improve.

Camille recently worked on our products' error messages with our product management team.

The first goal was to ensure the correctness of these messages.

She pushed the exercise at a far more advanced level.

Error messages

When running into an error message, the experience is, most of the time, frustrating.

Something unexpected happened, and it breaks your productivity flow. You now have to understand why this piece of software does not work the way it's supposed to. You have to figure out what to do to be able to move on. And you have more interesting to do.

An error message has to be crystal clear

Each message has to guide the user and must be self-explanatory, concise, and accurate.

When we write error messages, the temptation is high to detail as much as possible. What happened, what are the business rules. We should focus on helping the user to work around the issue and to move on.

Error messages don't have to be boring or impersonal. An error message is a way to engage with your users. It can be user friendly, using "you" and "we" pronouns creates a more human feeling.

For instance:

"Cannot remove this attribute used as a variant axis in a family variant."

"You cannot remove this attribute because it is used as a variant axis in a family variant."

Our messages have to be consistent across your whole application. We can adapt their content depending on the user persona we're talking too. But keeping a consistent tone of voice is essential.

Another good practice is to write them positively and to avoid negative sentences.

For instance:

"This value should not be blank."

"This value is required."

Conciliate these pieces of advice can be challenging, what to do when in doubt?

"The Platinium rule, if you're not sure, the rule overriding all the others, is your message has to be crystal clear." (Camille B.)

Error messages are a critical part of the UX

Looking at most of the software I use, error messages appear to me as a second class citizen of the User eXperience.

We can fix this in our industry. We can improve. We can craft great error messages. We can make them more engaging and as enjoyable as success messages.

Last words

Dear Camille, thank you! For pointing out this problem, for evangelizing and training our teams. Write great error messages is a step forward to deliver a more engaging experience to our users. 🦄