What is the Point of Error Messages?

What makes a good error message?

A. Informs the user what went wrong
B. Gives the user technical information
C. Assures the user things will be looked into
D. Tells the user what to do?

Think about it before looking at the answer. Who it is for? What they are meant to do with the information? Why they might encounter these messages?

Think about your own experiences with things you use – what do you with error messages? What do you wish you had been told in the error message?

If all of this led to you guessing D, congratulations!

None of the other error messages are helpful to the user. A and B can be harmful to the application as they can lead to security risks due to the possibility of exposing information which could be exploited. C can be misleading. Only D gives the user actions for them to do.

Sometimes the only action you can tell them is to try again or contact customer service and that is okay! The point behind these messages is to empower the user. If the error is something they can fix, they should know that. If the error is something they cannot fix, they should know that too!

Whenever you encounter an error message, you should always ask yourself – “What is this telling me?” and “Is this enough information for an average user to make a reasonable action?”

Error messages are an important part of the user experience, whether you are working with a GUI, API, or some other form of customer interaction.