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"There has been an error"... NO! 😡

nombrekeff profile image Manolo Edge ・1 min read

“The best error message is the one that never shows up” 
— Thomas Fuchs

I've never taken error messages that seriously,
now I think they can decide whether a user leans towards your app or some other one, let me tell you why.

This weekend I wanted to start a new TV Series, I checked Netflix out and did not find anything interesting so I checked Amazon Prime Video and found a cool series there and hit play... An error then appeared:

"This video can't be played"

I thought "crap this is unfortunate...", and decided to go back to Netflix and watch some crap show instead, I then realized there was some error with my connection and it didn't work either.

This is the thing... because Amazon said that the video could not be played, I guessed they meant in general, like if it was restricted by location or something... so I decided not to use their service.

 Some examples

Here is an example of a really bad error:
Alt Text

“Something happened”
Microsoft, Windows 10

To wrap things up

An error message can be critical, it is really different to say:

"This video can't be played"

as opposed to

"This video can't be played at the moment, please check your internet connection"

What are your opinions on this?

Discussion (6)

Editor guide
ahferroin7 profile image
Austin S. Hemmelgarn

The correct approach here is to follow two specific rules when handling error messages:

  • Don't tell the user things they already know. Both of your examples of bad error messages violate this one. It's pointless to tell the user something went wrong without telling them what went wrong in more detail than is immediately obvious from what's inherently visible in the UI.
  • Explain why, at least one level deeper than what's inherently obvious whenever possible. "This video can't be loaded." instead of "This video can't be played", "Permission denied attempting to access resource" instead of "Unable to access resource", etc.

The idea here is to give enough information so that someone who has a bit of background with similar services/tools can figure out enough to probably fix it themselves without needing to contact support in some way.

ghost profile image

But cmon, useless error messages are a proud tradition to MS, is part of their brand; and the only 2 solutions are usually reboot Windows, if that didn't work, reistall Windows, solved!. Well at least that's how it was until I stop using it.

nombrekeff profile image
Manolo Edge Author

funny xD mi solution to ms errors was buying a Mac :P

ghost profile image

Mine was and still is Linux, and a little BSD when I feel naughty

barakplasma profile image
Michael Salaverry

Error messages are an unfortunately overlooked part of the UX.
I try to engage Product Managers to decide on error messages before development whenever possible.

nombrekeff profile image
Manolo Edge Author

Definitely overlooked, I've tried doing that but they were never interested in improving this part, we even have an app where errors are always in English, even though the app is translated in 3 languages... this has been bothering me since I started working on it... 😡