Ideally, your system, website or application has been designed to prevent errors, but there is a great chance that someone, somewhere at some point in time will make an error when using it.
System errors are critical and shouldn’t be neglected. If you follow some simple advises you should be able to handle the problem well and your customers will continue to use your system, website, application. David Travis at Userfocus outlines 6 principles for dealing with system errors:
- Be visible: ensure that the error message can be easily spottet by the user.
- Be precise and specific about the occured error but don’t overdue it. Don’t give too long explenations and don’t use digit error codes (Error Nr. 311) that no one understands.
- Give constructive help so the user can effectively solve his/her problem. Give different options to proceed (search bar, most visited links).
- Speak the user’s language: don’t write error messages that seems to be written from the system’s perspective. (For example, write: ‘You can’t have numbers in your name‘ instead of ‘Character 2 at position 6 is not allowed.‘).
- Never blame the user: don’t use sentences like ‘you did something wrong’ or expressions like ‘user error’.
- Don’t be stupid: avoid spelling errors, typos or messages that are contradictory in themselves.
In his article David Travis has some hillarious examples for each point. Check them out and every advice will stick, guaranteed!
Now that we roughly covered the best practices of writing an error message, let’s talk about ‘404 page not found‘. Although they are dead ends and users dread them, such a page is a great opportunity to turn a disaster into a better relationship with your audience.
Renny Gleeson helps navigate brands through fresh concepts, such as viral marketing and social media, and in his TED talk he shows us how we can use humor to give a better ‘404-page not found‘-experience.