Error messages – help your users

4th December 2017 / by Richard Gray

Using an online banking portal late at night to transfer some money to another account I was met with an error message informing me that, after making one transfer, my “daily transfer limit had now been reached.”

This wasn’t a huge problem as I figured I’d process the amount I needed to transfer in two payments. I sent the first through that night and logged in the next morning intending to do the next.

Again though, the same error message. Now this was confusing because it was the next day – I’d made no transfers today, so how could my limit have been reached?

It wasn’t until 24 hours later that I was able to put the remaining transfer through. The error message was misleading, confusing and suggested other more serious problems (had someone else been transferring money from my account?)

What they should have said was “you can only transfer up to X amount in any 24 hour period.”

Error messages on websites are one of the areas (along with ‘thanks’ pages when forms are submitted) which are often overlooked when a site is developed.

Good quality, accurate and descriptive error messages are vital to improving the user experience and raising user confidence. If users know what’s gone wrong then they stand a better chance of being able to fix it before venting their frustrations by heading to a competitor.

Annoying error messages we’ve encountered in the past have included:

  • “The username or password entered is incorrect.”
  • “Some of the data you entered is in an incorrect format.”
  • “Sorry – something has gone wrong with your order.”

In each of these instances the website didn’t elaborate or indicate what needed to be fixed and therefore offered an extremely frustrating user experience.

As such we strongly recommended you spend time ensuring your error messages are instructive and helpful and are there to guide users towards their goal, rather than just telling them something has gone wrong. If you can, use the errors to suggest ways in which your users can rectify the problem.

Alternatively provide an easy way for them to get in touch with you.

Rich's Rants

Why do the same thing twice?

Asking your users to do the same thing twice just makes them annoyed and adds risk to the process.

Put things where people expect to find them

Like small children and lost toys, your website should put things where people expect to find them.

Don't confuse with colour

Putting aside the colour blindness issues of using colour to illustrate state, for those of us who aren't colour blind, please use colour in a way that makes sense.

Why apostrophes matter

I was asked one morning whether I thought that using apostrophes correctly really mattered.

Show you care

Show your users that you care about the small things and it will show that you care about the big things too.

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