Please stop with the whimsical error pages!

There is an increasing trend within the software industry. A trend that needs to stop.

Overly whimsical error pages.

I understand the intention, I do.

A lot of computer software has suffered from a problem of overly-technical language. This was always a problem on error pages, where traditionally, little effort was put into the language and user experience of the page. Because hey, nobody should ever see them, right?

Often, whatever the programmer added during to the error page development ended up in the final product (giving rise to the highly technical language). Or worse still, no branded error page was added at all - leaving whatever the platform default is.

unbranded error page
We've all seen the above page from time to time!

The industry has progressed, web apps have become large and complex, user numbers have increased massively, changes are deployed automatically and immediately, so it is very likely some user at some point will see some error page.

More time and effort is now placed on the branding and user experience of error pages - and this is good.

The problem I have with error pages that contain a funny picture or really informal wording is that the user has still ended up on an error page!

They may well have spent the last hour carefully adding data to a page. They are annoyed. The last thing they want to see is a joke. It makes it seem like whoever wrote the software doesn't care, and has not taken the problem seriously.

Error page example
Imagine you've just spent half an hour writing a detailed blog entry and you see the above error message!

However there some simple things an error message can include to avoid this:

  • A sincere apology.
  • A message to say somebody has been notified of the error and it's being fixed.
  • Somebody to contact if this is causing a real problem.
  • Instructions on how best to recover from the situation (e.g. Hit the back button, what you entered on the page is still there.).

In summary, please take your error pages seriously, show the user some empathy, and give them some recourse. Keyboards all over the world will thank you!

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