UX and Error Messages: Stop Scaring Your Users!

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In my last life, before I became a UX pro, I was a software trainer. I traveled all over the country and worked with users of all ages, teaching them how to use our various software solutions. I have a psychology background, so one of the things I always found fascinating was users’ reactions to error messages.

Our product does a really great job of calmly alerting users that something weird went down. We have a friendly professional voice, and keep our tone consistent.

A majority of the training I did was on our flagship CMS product. Most of the users I was working with were trying to wrangle content out of 3rd party products to transfer it in to our fab CMS. The 3rd party products often had nightmare-ish UI’s, and horrible UX, unfortunately.

On countless occasions, the 3rd party products threw absolutely horrible, terrifying looking error messages.

It is  incredible the impact that friendly error messages can have on UX. One day I had two users sitting right next to one another in a lab, one of them working in a 3rd party program and another working in our product. They happened to error out simultaneously. The 3rd party product had a giant RED X, with the word ERROR in all caps and a pile of crazy script beneath it. The user gasped, closed the browser and shot back in his chair like the screen had tried to bite him, viper style.

The user who received the error in our product read a message similar to, “Something weird just happened on our end, sorry about that. Please refresh your screen and try that again.” She grinned at me and said, “Oh boy, you’re in trouble now!” And refreshed her screen and continued editing.

The actual errors they encountered were very similar, but their experiences with the messages were VASTLY different. When you’re designing products and websites, don’t forget to pay attention to the little big details, like humanizing your error messages! It can make an absolutely HUGE difference in UX!

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