Production-Now.com Media Production Mentoring

Online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.

2.04.2010

Making Errors Make Sense

You've likely encountered the mysterious Error_26 or General Error during your years dealing with computers. These errors do little to inform you and basically say, "Something went wrong." But you already knew that.

...which is why, I'm guessing, Apple has switched their error messages to say: The application has unexpectedly quit. I mean, if you're going to merely acknowledge the fact that something went wrong you might as well be as nonchalant as possible.

These inane error messages are usually of little consequence. There's nothing we can really do about it and, other than massive amounts of data loss, there isn't much harm done.

But for web and game designers error messages need to make sense. If something isn't working there is a reason for it and your visitor/player needs to know what they need to do to fix it. Here is an example of what not to do: I've been trying to sign up for a new autopay system for four weeks now. I entered all the data and then was given a vague: We're sorry, something has gone wrong. Please try again later and if it keeps happening, contact customer support.

So I contacted customer support.

Three times.

It wasn't until the third time when I forced the guy to stay on the phone with me while I walked through the steps that I was told: Oh, you have to use both letters and numbers in your username.

Huh? Really?

Oh, and you can't use special characters--like periods--in your account recovery information either.

Huh? Really?

A simple message that said: You must include at least one numeric character in your username would have saved me three calls and four weeks of fiddling.

So, wherever possible, use your error messages to help the end user. Otherwise, as with the messages from your computer, your users will be helpless to move forward.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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