The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Error Messages

Software have every right to fail, but how they communicate to us is what really matters. The message that user gets in case of failure can make the experience very good such that “hey, the software failed but still it knows what happened and is looking to fix it” or very bad “what the non-sense, what I should do now”.

When I write some test scripts for my self to speed up the testing work, my prompts are like these: “Stupid, enter only Numbers”, “Thou shall place the file at thy root folder” :). But of course, these won’t work for commercial software.

Taking the analogy from the famous Hollywood western movie “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” where all three main characters are “**** guys” but they have categories, here is how errors are. (By the way if you have not entertained yourself with this Clint Eastwood classic, you better watch the movie first)

The Ugly message

This is the message that leaves no clue for the user so as what went wrong. Is user supposed to do a better job in handling the software? Or what should be the next step. The following is an example:

The only thing that we know from this error is that some thing is wrong and that’s it.

The Bad message

This is the message that gives some picture so as what happened and may or may not suggest the next steps. So this brings some hope that this error can go away. The example is:

Sorry if the text is not clear but it is letting us know that there is an error or a refresh/reload may solve this problem.

The Good message

This is the message where software seems in total control and suggests the user what should be next step. This keeps the user of the opinion that she is in good caring hands. An example is where Yahoo Mail fails to load:

A Bonus error message

As I was searching my collection of error reports (yes, I love errors and I collect error messages as a hobby J ), I came across this interesting example. This looks to be a very innocent error and you may not observe it even. But a tool that claims to be specialist in spell checking have one word spelled incorrectly… find it, you can.

This was long ago, and now they have a much better page with correct spelling:

Do you have experienced either of the categories? Or what kind of error messages are displayed by the software you work on?


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  1. Some funny errors « KnowledgeTester - January 16, 2013

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