2003 Called…It Wants Its Error Message Back

File this under “anti-pattern”… here’s an error message I received from a web application when I clicked on something after I exceeded the automatic log out timer but the page didn’t refresh.

Obviously this message is ugly and rude, but what else is happening here? Here’s a quick tally:

1. Dev-speak. Most of the message is clearly written for debugging purposes. Why show this to the end users, who in this case are students, instructors, and instructional designers?

2. Who’s the audience? While most of the content is directed at developers and QA testers, there’s the curious directive to “Contact the System Administrator.” Who was this message designed to address? The internal team or the users? Or is this just some sloppy concatenation of messages that gets thoughtlessly barfed onto the screen with no underlying design rationale? (You can guess what I think…)

3. Abdication of responsibility. Let’s revisit that “contact your system administrator” bit. There’s a dismissive, “not our problem” attitude behind this hackneyed phrase that’s not only unhelpful, it’s insulting.

Well-written error messages are supposed to do two things: tell you that something has gone wrong, and provide you with sufficient information or available actions to get back to your task.

So how would I redesign this interaction?

– Remove all the dev-speak.

– Remove that screamingly ugly red bar and “Error” text.

– Add the following content: “You have been automatically signed out. Sign back in below.”

– Add these elements: sign-in control set (username, password, button) and a “Forgot username or password?” link.

It’s 2014. It really isn’t too much to ask for.

 (Click the image to embiggen)


Required Reading: Hunting Unicorns

My colleague and friend Patrick Neeman just posted a great presentation about the skillsets and competencies of effective UX practitioners.

Why it’s required reading:

1. Patrick frames the problem: that is, there’s no single entry point or path into a UX career. Consequently, practitioners who identify as “UX practitioners” have wildly different skillsets and competencies.

2. He provides a very useful visual model of user experience competencies, and shows how the different sub-specialties map to the model.

3. He explicitly identifies the soft skills necessary to be an effective practitioner, and gives examples of how they would come into play in different situations.

I wish there was a recording of the talk, because I’d really like to hear the soft skills part.

The presentation is embedded below. Enjoy.

eBay Made Me Think…But Not In A Good Way

[Note: this is a repost from the old UsabilityBlog. I'm just moving some "greatest hits" over to the new site.]

Disclaimer: I am a user and fan of eBay. Just check out my profile – I’m a long time buyer/seller. When it comes to user experience, they do lots of things right.

Here’s one thing they did wrong: They provided half-hearted, linkless “help” in the form of “to do x, go to [place A] or [place B]“, without including links to those locations. This is a no-brainer and should’ve been coded ages ago.

safe_image.phpAs a result, I had to hunt around for a small but still-annoying period of time before I found where I needed to go.

Somebody please add that to the eBay UX fix list.

Don’t Make Me Register First

It’s 2014. Does anyone running an ecommerce site really think it’s a good idea to make people register for an account before allowing them to shop? I mean c’mon, any e-tailer with a lick of sense knows about lazy registration and guest-only checkout, right?

Not this company.


Here’s how I found this gem: while wasting time on Facebook I noticed an ad for mid-century furniture and (gasp) actually /clicked/ on an ad. First time I can remember doing that. And you know why I did? Because we’re actually shopping for furniture right now and we like mid-century stuff.

Here’s the ad:


It’s attractive. I wanted to shop there. So I clicked it. But when I was brought to the site, up pops a modal dialog with no escape hatch. It was either sign up or leave. I left.

Online retailers: This is a bad user experience. Don’t do this. If you do, I guarantee you’re losing customers and money.

Hi Again

Consider this the relaunch of UsabilityBlog. I’ve been meaning to get back to it for months. Enjoy.