Error messages

Random thoughts about just one error message

A few days ago, when I was asked by a developer about what would be the error message to show in case the end user uploaded something larger than 100MB to a file upload control on screen, my immediate answer was “Please upload file which has size less than 100MB”

However there was a second voice in my head said: “Hang on, it’s not enough…what if the user needs to upload something more than 100MB?”. So my second version of the message is “Please compress all the files that you want to upload to chunks of 100MB zip files and upload them” :-) Now you see how complicated the messages is, and I’m really doubt if anyone read the message understands what it means. At that point, I thought that I went a bit overboard and was not actually consider things from the end user’s point of view. I decided to stand up and take a cup of coffee (I love drinking coffee, by the way)

When I was sipping my coffee, I was thinking “Why would you need an error message anyway? What if I put all the guidelines at the control and user will follow the guideline and we don’t need to give any error message?” and here is the version

The upgraded version of the original one

However, this version still doesn’t look alright to me.

I would love to have another idea like the following (Claim: I am not a UI/UX designer so I believe there would be greater ideas about how the control should looks like…I also love to see myself doing this UI/UX works sometimes in the future)

Just an idea of the control

Second version

My mind was actually went on and on for hours about the “error messages”, it haunted me :-)

My take-aways after this train of thoughts, which I believe will be useful for my job in software development are

  1. Most of nowadays users probably are experienced users, who have used applications a lot, so may be we don’t need many instructions or error messages even we still have to do the input validations. For example emails, I don’t think giving a message like “Your email is lacking @ character, such it is not a valid email addresss” sounds cool anymore (even thoughthey were in the past 10 or 15 years a go). Probably another version like “Oops, this email address doesn’t look alright, did you have a typo?” makes the user feels more human and makes the application more friendly toward users as well.
  2. If possible, always give instructions (or heads-up) instead of error messages. I think it is always better to give out your expectations (in this case, what are the things that the control is expecting the users to do) and also express your capabilities ( so that users don’t expect something so different and such we can reduce the risk of disappointing him/her later)
  3. Imagine your users are smart, funny, easy-going people and communicate with them using your applications. It will produce better experiences for users and I believe it will make your applications looks/sounds smarter, prettier or funnier to use as well.

Finally, I am now imagine about “smarter applications” , which are not “smart-apps” being used on “smart-devices” but applications which at some level knows or at least shows that they are able to think and interact with end users in a more human way, it can include a bit of learning, guessing-based behaviors…I may addict to that kind of “smarter-apps”.

Ho Chi Minh 21.8.2016

(On my summer vacation — at Home, with Love)


Sidetrack: I feel how my mind is treating me, you see, just an error message took me hours to think about it, damm ! ;-)