The best error messages are the ones that never show up at all. When writing an error message, first ask yourself if it could be avoided with improvements to the design. But even with the most thoughtfully designed experiences, errors are sometimes unavoidable.
While errors can be frustrating for users, following these best practices can quickly put users back on track.
- Give the user the information they need and instruct them on how to resolve the error.
- Be specific about what went wrong. Avoid vague phrases like, “Oops, something went wrong.”
- Leave out the technical jargon. References to code or even error types names aren’t very helpful to our users.
- Get to the point. 200 characters or less should do.
- Don’t apologize for every single error, it quickly becomes ingenuine.
- There’s no need to place blame. Mistakes happen — our users are human and so are we. Being polite goes a long way.
- Avoid phrases like “You did…” or “Your action caused…”
- Exclamation points don’t help. You only get a few to play with anyways, and error messages aren’t the place for them.
Error messages can be found in form fields, notes, notices, toasts and alerts. Work with a designer to determine the context and the appropriate component that gives the user the best experience.