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Handling errors gracefully

From: User Experience Fundamentals for Web Design

Video: Handling errors gracefully

Now let's talk about how to handle errors in forms. Even with the best instructions and the clearest fields people may still make typing mistakes. Of course, you want to do your best to catch errors before they cause people trouble. Any error is going to be disheartening to your visitors and errors in forms are big cause of abandonment. Some errors aren't really errors as such, but are just misunderstandings made because the computer didn't understand the format of the entry. One way to stop these errors is to use forgiving formats. For entries like phone numbers let people enter spaces or parentheses as they see fit and then the computer can strip that information away before it checks that the entry is valid.

Handling errors gracefully

Now let's talk about how to handle errors in forms. Even with the best instructions and the clearest fields people may still make typing mistakes. Of course, you want to do your best to catch errors before they cause people trouble. Any error is going to be disheartening to your visitors and errors in forms are big cause of abandonment. Some errors aren't really errors as such, but are just misunderstandings made because the computer didn't understand the format of the entry. One way to stop these errors is to use forgiving formats. For entries like phone numbers let people enter spaces or parentheses as they see fit and then the computer can strip that information away before it checks that the entry is valid.

It's also best to do validation of each field. That way you can try and catch errors as they happen and let people know in line that the field needs attention before they submit the form. If people do make an error filling in the form, you need to help them correct it without scaring them off. If you found issues after they've submitted the form, you're going to need to walk people through the errors so that they can correct them. The way to do this is to put a description of the error at the top of the form. This should indicate the number of errors and list them. Be careful not to use language that blames your customer though.

These listed errors can be links to take the user directly to the corresponding field. Also, highlight each field that has a problem. One of the most effective ways that I've seen during user testing is to turn the field border red. You should also add a message for each problem that describes what the entry should look like. Maybe using an example from the data or tips on common errors like when people provide a user name rather than an email address. If you can manage it technically, one of the most forgiving ways of getting people to correct problems is to just show them the fields they need to attend to rather than displaying the whole form all over again.

This often makes the error correction experience seem much less daunting as only a few fields are shown on the screen. Forms can be a big source of confusion and frustration for your visitors and this can really hurt your user experience. I really suggest that you spend the time to usability test your forms with representative users. That means people who meet your persona description. Give them a task to complete that involves filling in the form and then sit back and watch them go through the process. Thinking out loud as they do it. You've learned a lot about a potential traps in your form design from this activity.

It's a great investment and it makes sure that your real customers don't find the same frustrations.

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User Experience Fundamentals for Web Design

52 video lessons · 24987 viewers

Chris Nodder
Author

 
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  1. 1m 7s
    1. Welcome
      1m 7s
  2. 4m 37s
    1. Building a site for your visitors
      1m 29s
    2. Understanding how people browse the web
      45s
    3. It's all about information
      48s
    4. What causes people to leave sites?
      1m 35s
  3. 3m 50s
    1. Simple design
      1m 9s
    2. Consistent design
      1m 11s
    3. Standard design
      1m 30s
  4. 20m 55s
    1. Elements of navigation
      1m 21s
    2. Content has a structure
      2m 18s
    3. Understanding menus
      3m 19s
    4. Reviewing some menu myths
      2m 4s
    5. Working with site maps
      1m 5s
    6. Adding search to your site
      2m 53s
    7. Understanding links
      3m 43s
    8. Exploring clickable elements
      1m 18s
    9. Understanding Fitts's Law
      2m 54s
  5. 11m 19s
    1. People can begin from any page on your site
      1m 24s
    2. Elements every web page should have
      3m 25s
    3. Creating progressive navigation
      3m 22s
    4. Arranging your content
      3m 8s
  6. 8m 7s
    1. How people read on the web
      2m 31s
    2. Writing for information exchange
      1m 43s
    3. Formatting pages for information exchange
      3m 53s
  7. 7m 21s
    1. Using your homepage as a site summary
      1m 50s
    2. Creating fresh content
      1m 20s
    3. Displaying navigation and search
      1m 25s
    4. The five-second test
      2m 46s
  8. 8m 8s
    1. Showing people what you've got
      3m 50s
    2. Making comparisons easy
      1m 24s
    3. Creating landing pages from ad campaigns
      2m 54s
  9. 11m 22s
    1. The real purpose of detail and product pages
      1m 16s
    2. Writing descriptive text
      2m 4s
    3. Using images to set context
      2m 17s
    4. Showing the price for products
      2m 27s
    5. Have a call to action
      1m 36s
    6. About Us: a special detail page
      1m 42s
  10. 10m 58s
    1. Ask for information in context
      2m 25s
    2. Making forms as painless as possible
      2m 34s
    3. Creating form fields
      3m 37s
    4. Handling errors gracefully
      2m 22s
  11. 9m 9s
    1. Using different types of media
      1m 55s
    2. Simple question: Does it enhance the experience?
      2m 15s
    3. Using graphics for explanation, not decoration
      1m 17s
    4. What is interactive content?
      1m 58s
    5. Laying out your page for media
      1m 44s
  12. 5m 3s
    1. Making money without selling out
      1m 37s
    2. Adding graphical ads
      2m 10s
    3. Creating text ads
      1m 16s
  13. 3m 42s
    1. Simple, consistent, and standard design
      2m 4s
    2. Consider your users and you'll be fine
      1m 38s
  14. 1m 31s
    1. More resources
      1m 31s

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