Soddin’ useless error messages!

Seriously do some designers and developers think users are  mind readers? I’ve just tried to signup for and believe i’ve filled out the form correctly, yet I continue to get this annoying and ridiculous ‘helpful’ dialogue:


Oh how useful! Jeez… I can tell you now that i’ve checked over the form and it looks ok to me, no obvious errors so I’m betting they have some tight password restrictions that they’re neglecting to inform the user about. Yep that’s right, there is no help or error text on the form when you go back to it. Not even a little red asterix anywhere to give you the teeniest of hints where you might need to focus your efforts. Needless to say i’m giving this one a miss. One less user for due to poor error handling and total lack of help text.

Whilst i’m on the subject, here’s another lovely worded piece of error text. It’s so friendly, understanding and helpful (not!).



Referring to a person as ‘this user’ is never a good thing and you’re sure to annoy them by de-peronalising them in such a way. It’s also not helpful to say the number of errors. Why does that help the user to complete the form in any way?

It’s much better to be informative in a readable manner. Don’t be afraid to be informal – speak the user’s language. Lighten it up a bit, maybe you should even apologise so the pressure’s off them – it’s not that they made an error, it’s more than likely the form was poorly designed which caused the error in the first place.

Forms are generally boring. People hate having to fill them in. So why not ‘fun’ them up a bit. Try some of the following:

Use colour

Use informal language

Use transitions to make the form feel nicer to use

Think about whether you could add some funky graphics. Careful not to hinder the form usability though – it still needs to be focussed without anything distracting rather than contributing to completing the form.

Don’t forget to follow usability guidelines too! 


Say what the error is AND how the user can fix it

Show the user which fields needs correcting. They should be visually different to the other fields.

– Put errors in place, rather than waiting for the user to press the ‘send’ button. Less pain, more gain!

Avoid technical language at all costs. Use words your audience will understand.

Try and keep the form itself short and painless too. Really think about the info you’re asking for. Cut it down, sleep on it and cut it down some more. Be ruthless! Form design isn’t easy and you should always perform usability testing on your form to ensure there’s nothing you’ve missed that could result in major drop-offs. Happy designing! 🙂