So you arrive at a website and start along your merry way, browsing at will. Suddenly, you are confronted by a curious 'error' message, denoted by a big red exclamation mark. OK, so I have made a mistake by not including a valid username. But why is the error message in the bottom left of the page when the field for my username is in the top right?
At first, I did not even know what the red exclamation mark was telling me until I scoured the page for direction. Sadly, rather than being the only issue, this example is but one of the many error messages which contrive to frustrate online customers and exacerbate the mistake that should be easily rectified.
On any given website there are usability issues which range from minor to critical. When it comes to proper error messages, what needs to be realized is that they are not just important to the user experience, they are critical.
Whose Job is it Anyway?
In what seems an astoundingly odd move, some sites do not even concern themselves with delivering a proper error message, instead relying on the web or application server to throw up its standard — and uninformative — messages. At best, this seems nonchalant and at worst, entirely ignorant towards the user. It is up to the company to ensure that error messages are both timely and accurate.
Put simply, and this in no way diminishes the importance of the point, a good error message should tell you three critical things: what went wrong, why it happened, and what, if anything, you can do to fix it.
Unfortunately for web users, these excruciating experiences which exhibit a fundamental lack of awareness by the site designers are all too frequent. From jargon-laden messages which serve only to confuse to others which go no way to actually explaining where you have strayed, proper error messages appear to be conspicuously absent.
The Long and Winding Road
Inconsistent, misleading or just plain bad, this kind of error message can be an infuriating diversion on the road to completing your online goal or arriving at your ultimate online destination. In some worst case scenarios, they are so distracting that they arrest your desire to even complete the transaction if it is not imperative that you buy from that particular ecommerce site. For many users, time is very much of the essence. Time consuming navigation which often seems to lead to an online cul-de-sac is not desirable to anyone.
The sad thing is that, with foresight and an awareness of what your user needs to assist when a genuine error is made, it does not have to be this way. I am sure there are those who consider this to be much ado about nothing but I can assure those doubters, proper error messages matter.
Next week, I will conclude this piece with Part II or maybe even a prequel, that seems to be the 'trendy' thing to do these days….I am sure your anticipation is positively palpable