“Sorry”, not “Bite Me”: Good versus bad contingency design
Really stupid error messages on web sites:
- The web site encountered an error. Someone showed me this today. ‘Encountered’ an error? In a dark alley? Not only is this message totally unhelpful, it also manages to sound wishy-washy.
- An error occurred while executing service ‘blah blah’ in category ‘blah blah’. Huh? Should I be scared?
- Web page cannot be displayed. Wow, thanks. I couldn’t figure that out on my own.
- 500 internal server error. Totally unhelpful, like the first three, yet even more ominous.
- And, my personal favorite (this error appears on the web site of one of Seattle’s premier interactive agencies, by the way, if you attempt to reach a page that doesn’t exist):
Errors happen. That’s life on the web. Plan for it, by creating a custom error page that reassures the visitor.
If you want to learn more about contingency design, I highly recommend Defensive Design for the Web:
Defensive Design for the Web: How to improve error messages, help, forms, and other crisis points (VOICES) (37signals, Matthew Linderman, Jason Fried)