Handling Error Messages

Error messages are dreaded as much by web site visitors as they are by web site owners and web designers. But it seems that the dread on the part of owners and designers leads them to occasionally overlook their importance, thus resulting in a less-than-optimal user experience when site visitors make a mistake (something that never happens, as we all know).

So, how to go about the process of making mistakes “well” (as put by 37Signals). Here are some tips:

* Download the whitepaper on Contingency Design, created by 37Signals back in 2002. Though it’s a bit dated, the advice in it is current and useful. They went as far as turning the whitepaper into a book called Defensive Design for the Web

* Read some more on error message guidelines, by the guru of usability, Jakob Nielsen.

* Learn how to make good 404 pages, courtesy of the 404 Pros.

Put all of this together and take a realistic look at your site, with your hand on your heart. Chances are you will encounter many more places than you imagined, where you can do something simple to make your visitor’s experience more pleasant, so that (even if they get an error message or don’t correctly fill out a form) they will still want to come back.