Feedback messages have come a long way since the time of Abort Retry Fail. For those of you too young to remember a world without graphical interfaces, those are DOS messages. Todays feedback messages are rather more creative and playful, to the point where people have started making best of collections. Theres even one error message, the Fail Whale from Twitter an illustration of a whale lifted up by birds displayed when Twitter is brought down by too many Tweets that safely qualifies as a viral cult object. Even Microsofts infamous blue screen of death has undergone a dramatic facelift with Windows 8.
The current trend among writers of error messages is to be cute, with expressions like oops and uh oh cropping up in some of the most frequently used applications.
And heres Facebook:
I tend to think its a good idea to become more personal when interacting with the user, but when Ive just lost all my work, a cute message feels glib and patronizing, not funny. In those circumstances, what I really want to know is why it happened and what I can do about it.
While finding the right tone of voice is one important aspect of crafting meaningful messages, there are actually a number of additional elements to consider. Based on my experience, I have come up with 5 guidelines to follow when defining the interaction between the application and its users (let me know if you feel theres something missing!):
- Give feedback on user action and updates on system status
- Prevent errors from happening
- Allow for easy error recovery
- Communicate clearly and consistenty
- Provide access to more information / help when needed
I will review these points in more detail in another post. In the meantime, heres a presentation on the same topic:
The truth is that feedback messages alert, error, help, etc. are often treated as an afterthought (oops!), when in fact they should be an integral part of the user-centric application design process.