The importance of clear error messages

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The best error message is the one that never shows up.
Thomas Fuchs

Not so long ago I saw a Linkedin post from a former colleague stating that, if there is a notification about the error and the wrong format, it would be great if it would contain the information about the correct format, too. 

After a while during a test round on an application I couldn’t submit a form. A fellow colleague detected the problem – the image I was trying to upload was too big. The first thought that crossed my mind was – “But why I wasn’t told that I am trying to upload a large image?”

And that’s where error messages come into play.

Let’s face it – errors happen, that is almost inevitable. Whether you are filling out a form or ordering a lunch through an application, there is always a chance you will encounter one. 

But, if you do, it is important that they are informative and do not make you drop what are you doing at the moment, just like this one: 

So, here a couple of ground rules that should be followed, when it comes to error messages: 

Keep it clear – Try to define the error as accurate as possible. Explain briefly and concisely what happened and why it happened. 

Suggest next steps – Give your users a chance to correct the issue by explaining them what to do or try next. 

Offer actions – If possible, offer action(s) that could solve the problem within the error message.

Mind the tone of the communication – Error messages should be simple and understandable. Avoid using technical mumbo jumbo or accusing users of doing something wrong. So, please never use capital letters or several exclamation marks in a row. A hint of apology is also very welcome, if the error was not caused by the user. 

Mind the visual aspect – Make the error text readable and use proper colours. 

Place it right – It is important to place the error message in the area where the error appears. Do not make the users scroll to the top or the bottom of the page in order to find the error message. 

To sum it up, if you are crafting a clear, logical and powerful application make sure your error messages are just the same. 

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