Applied Interaction Design
Illustration by John Hersey

Applied Interaction Design

with David Hogue

Video: Handling errors and error messages

We're back on the first step of the checkout process on the original Hansel and Petal website. And we were just talking about the fact that this Date selector down at the bottom. I have to type in this information, and I just manually typed in May 13, 2013. I'm worried that this might not be valid information, it might be a mistake. Actually, let's talk about that for a second. Let's make a distinction between mistakes and errors. Most of the time, when we're talking about Interaction design, we're very worried about errors. When something happens that actually stops or interferes with the completion of a process, we don't go any further forward.

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Watch the Online Video Course Applied Interaction Design
1h 49m Beginner Jul 11, 2013

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Dave Hogue has been studying how people interact with digital devices and interfaces for over 15 years, and knows how design can make or break a website. In this course, he shares a hands-on approach to improving interaction design for a better user experience on the web. This course breaks down the components of an example site, from its homepage to categories, content, and the shopping cart, and introduces common customer scenarios that can be used to identify opportunities for improvement. You'll learn how to enhance navigation, gather feedback after interactions, manage content layers, and add features such as infinite scrolling, collapsible modules, and dynamic content to enrich the user's experience. Then compare the before and after websites to understand why these techniques make them more engaging and effective.

Topics include:
  • Defining a customer scenario
  • Improving navigation
  • Working with content in grids
  • Establishing a sense of place on category pages
  • Exploring infinite scroll and pagination methods
  • Using tooltips to deliver contextual content
  • Working with light boxes and layers
  • Improving form structure
  • Handling errors and presenting effective error messages
  • Comparing the original site to the enhanced site
Subject:
Web
Author:
David Hogue

Handling errors and error messages

We're back on the first step of the checkout process on the original Hansel and Petal website. And we were just talking about the fact that this Date selector down at the bottom. I have to type in this information, and I just manually typed in May 13, 2013. I'm worried that this might not be valid information, it might be a mistake. Actually, let's talk about that for a second. Let's make a distinction between mistakes and errors. Most of the time, when we're talking about Interaction design, we're very worried about errors. When something happens that actually stops or interferes with the completion of a process, we don't go any further forward.

Everything comes to a grinding halt. On the other hand, a mistake is an incorrect choice or wrong information. It doesn't prevent the process from moving forward, but the outcome may not be what I desired. Just give you a quick example. If I have say, a $1,000 in a bank account, and I'm trying to transfer a $100 to you, if I accidentally type in one $1,000 as the transfer, the bank will do that. It was not my intention, it was a mistake, but I had enough money in my bank account for that transfer to occur.

On the other hand, if I have $500 in my bank account and I want to transfer $100 to you. But I type a $1,000, then an error is going to occur because I don't have enough money in the bank account for a $1,000 transaction. So the bank will send a message back and say, sorry, we can't do that you don't have enough money. So the error stopped the process but a mistake went forward and I just had the wrong outcome, it was not what I expected.

In this particular case, I am not sure if this is a valid date or if this is the correct date format but I'm pretty sure that if I don't have a correct, it will tell me. So, if we click Next to move forward, well, I kind of am still here. But if you notice at the very top of the page, something seems to have, yes, we have an error. So we've got a couple problems going on here. One is that I almost missed that error message. It appeared at the top of the page but I made the mistake down here.

We want the error message to be in a noticeable position. You can image that I might not have seen this at all. There are some best practices for handling error messages and making sure people see them. When an error occurs, we need to tell people what has happened and we need to make sure that they notice it. There's a few things for the error messages that we need to remember. One, we should use natural language and don't blame the person. The error can be corrected, we need to describe what went wrong, explain why it went wrong, and recommend how to resolve the error. In other words we need to provide assistance.

We need help people understand what happened, and what they can do about it in order to continue moving forward. So, the problems that we have on this particular page now, are that the error message, was not immediately visible to me. If I hadn't noticed just a slight shift in the content of the page in that little peak of yellow, I may not have seen that error message at all. It would of been much better to place the error message, right next to the date field, so that it was immediately visible to me.

Or better yet, use the calendar widget, so that I'm only able to select from valid dates. But the message that we have in this error message is not clear, Invalid date. Does that mean that you can't ship on the 15th? Or does that mean that I typed the 15th in, in the wrong format? If it's the wrong format and I have to put it in a particular way such as 05152013. Well then you should at least show me what the format for the data should be in the error message. Or better yet, if I have to type it in in a particular format, show me the format that I have to use right next to the form field before I even start typing that information in.

Once again, our best solution would be the calendar widget. If I can't use the calendar widget, and there's a required format, show me the format right here. So that I understand from the beginning how I need to enter that information. That's a situation where we're making people work harder than they need to. We should be able to be smart. If we're not going to use the calendar widget, allow people to put the date information in however they want. And then reformat it however you need it, for your database. They can enter the information in multiple formats, you simply translate it to the format that you need.

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