Error Messages (Was: Hiding and Disabling MenuItems)

3 Jul 2008 - 1:18pm
6 years ago
5 replies
576 reads
Scott Berkun
2008

Yes - I'd go even further and blame development tools. Here's a theory:

1. The design of development tools is indifferent to the making of good UI.
2. Programmers are efficient (or lazy :)

Therefore

3. Programmers will tend to make bad UI... until development tools make it
almost as easy to make good UI as it is to make lazy UI.

A development tool that makes it easy to follow basic UI guidelines is 20
times more valuable than any book on UI design. Instead of blaming
programmers, it'd be better to aim at the programmers who make tools for
programmers.

-Scott

Scott Berkun
www.scottberkun.com

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dan Saffer" <dan at odannyboy.com>
To: "IxDA Discuss" <discuss at ixda.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2008 8:59 AM
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Error Messages (Was: Hiding and Disabling
MenuItems)

> I will say that this isn't only just an expedient method for
> developers--I can tell when I'm getting lazy in my thinking when the best
> I can offer is a pop-up error message. It can be an easy trap for
> designers to fall into as well.

Comments

3 Jul 2008 - 1:48pm
Mitchell Joe
2007

>> The system should never present an error message to a user unless the
user
>> has done everything right but the system itself cannot respond correctly.
>> Users should otherwise never be allowed to make "errors."
>>
>
>I second that. In fact, I preach it often.
>

Okay, so what about this situation:You come to a screen to pay your bills
and there are empty fields to enter in different dollar amounts and a "Make
Payments" button. The user might make the error of pressing the button
without entering any dollar amounts. I think it's fair to call this an
error. One way to prevent this would be to disable the button and give it
that grayed out visual treatment until they enter a dollar amount but that
would mean that when they arrive at the page they'll see a "broken" button.
Will they realize that it's because they haven't entered any payment amounts
yet or will they see the grayed out button and think, "Why can't I make
payments?" I think I'd lean towards showing an enabled button and then
giving a "You did not enter a dollar amount." error message if they pressed
it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Mitch

On Thu, Jul 3, 2008 at 11:18 AM, Scott Berkun <info at scottberkun.com> wrote:

> Yes - I'd go even further and blame development tools. Here's a theory:
>
> 1. The design of development tools is indifferent to the making of good UI.
> 2. Programmers are efficient (or lazy :)
>
> Therefore
>
> 3. Programmers will tend to make bad UI... until development tools make it
> almost as easy to make good UI as it is to make lazy UI.
>
> A development tool that makes it easy to follow basic UI guidelines is 20
> times more valuable than any book on UI design. Instead of blaming
> programmers, it'd be better to aim at the programmers who make tools for
> programmers.
>
> -Scott
>
> Scott Berkun
> www.scottberkun.com
>
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Dan Saffer" <dan at odannyboy.com>
> To: "IxDA Discuss" <discuss at ixda.org>
> Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2008 8:59 AM
> Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Error Messages (Was: Hiding and Disabling
> MenuItems)
>
>
> I will say that this isn't only just an expedient method for developers--I
>> can tell when I'm getting lazy in my thinking when the best I can offer is
>> a pop-up error message. It can be an easy trap for designers to fall into as
>> well.
>>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

3 Jul 2008 - 2:46pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

>
> One way to prevent this would be to disable the button and give it
> that grayed out visual treatment until they enter a dollar amount but that
> would mean that when they arrive at the page they'll see a "broken" button.

Agreed, assuming most people actually look at the button prior to completing
the form.

I think I'd lean towards showing an enabled button and then
> giving a "You did not enter a dollar amount." error message if they pressed
> it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
>

Definitely—inline validation, prior to to the button click, is ideal. Not
easy to code, but ideal. And of course, the messages should tell users how
to do things correctly rather than just accusing them of doing something
wrong (e.e. "Your email must be in the form 'me at mydomain.com'").

-r-

3 Jul 2008 - 2:22pm
Filipe Levi
2008

I had this problem yesterday with Google Video Uploader. The login window
has a 'Submit' button which stays disabled till the user types the first
digit of his/her password (I had asked it to remember my username).

It looked strange and took me an unnecessary effort to realize it was not
broken! The point is: I'd never click the 'Submit' button with the password
field empty. Similarly, I'd rarely click Mitchell's 'Make payments' button
with the amounts fields empty because *I'd be there to pay the amounts*.

I wouldn't eliminate the probability of an error to occur, but the task
tells a lot about it.

Regards,

*Filipe Levi*
User researcher at CESAR
UXnet ambassador in Brazil
+55 81 99240791 | mobile
+55 81 31345131 | office
filipelevi.com

On Thu, Jul 3, 2008 at 3:48 PM, Mitchell Joe <mitch at mitchelljoe.com> wrote:

> >> The system should never present an error message to a user unless the
> user
> >> has done everything right but the system itself cannot respond
> correctly.
> >> Users should otherwise never be allowed to make "errors."
> >>
> >
> >I second that. In fact, I preach it often.
> >
>
> Okay, so what about this situation:You come to a screen to pay your bills
> and there are empty fields to enter in different dollar amounts and a "Make
> Payments" button. The user might make the error of pressing the button
> without entering any dollar amounts. I think it's fair to call this an
> error. One way to prevent this would be to disable the button and give it
> that grayed out visual treatment until they enter a dollar amount but that
> would mean that when they arrive at the page they'll see a "broken" button.
> Will they realize that it's because they haven't entered any payment
> amounts
> yet or will they see the grayed out button and think, "Why can't I make
> payments?" I think I'd lean towards showing an enabled button and then
> giving a "You did not enter a dollar amount." error message if they pressed
> it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
>
> Mitch
>
>
> On Thu, Jul 3, 2008 at 11:18 AM, Scott Berkun <info at scottberkun.com>
> wrote:
>
> > Yes - I'd go even further and blame development tools. Here's a theory:
> >
> > 1. The design of development tools is indifferent to the making of good
> UI.
> > 2. Programmers are efficient (or lazy :)
> >
> > Therefore
> >
> > 3. Programmers will tend to make bad UI... until development tools make
> it
> > almost as easy to make good UI as it is to make lazy UI.
> >
> > A development tool that makes it easy to follow basic UI guidelines is 20
> > times more valuable than any book on UI design. Instead of blaming
> > programmers, it'd be better to aim at the programmers who make tools for
> > programmers.
> >
> > -Scott
> >
> > Scott Berkun
> > www.scottberkun.com
> >
> > ----- Original Message ----- From: "Dan Saffer" <dan at odannyboy.com>
> > To: "IxDA Discuss" <discuss at ixda.org>
> > Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2008 8:59 AM
> > Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Error Messages (Was: Hiding and Disabling
> > MenuItems)
> >
> >
> > I will say that this isn't only just an expedient method for
> developers--I
> >> can tell when I'm getting lazy in my thinking when the best I can offer
> is
> >> a pop-up error message. It can be an easy trap for designers to fall
> into as
> >> well.
> >>
> >
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> > List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> > List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
> >
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

3 Jul 2008 - 3:07pm
Josh Powell
2008

Inline validation is the best way to go, but the user could still not enter
anything and see that the form is "disabled" and wonder why. but that is a
better trade off then having a button they can press which doesn't work.
better to prevent errors then allow them and then message about them later.
If really concerned, you could put a message next to the submit button
stating that the form must be filled out to enable the button.

On Thu, Jul 3, 2008 at 12:46 PM, Robert Hoekman Jr <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:

> >
> > One way to prevent this would be to disable the button and give it
> > that grayed out visual treatment until they enter a dollar amount but
> that
> > would mean that when they arrive at the page they'll see a "broken"
> button.
>
>
> Agreed, assuming most people actually look at the button prior to
> completing
> the form.
>
> I think I'd lean towards showing an enabled button and then
> > giving a "You did not enter a dollar amount." error message if they
> pressed
> > it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
> >
>
> Definitely—inline validation, prior to to the button click, is ideal. Not
> easy to code, but ideal. And of course, the messages should tell users how
> to do things correctly rather than just accusing them of doing something
> wrong (e.e. "Your email must be in the form 'me at mydomain.com'").
>
> -r-
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

7 Jul 2008 - 9:39am
Dan Saffer
2003

On Jul 3, 2008, at 11:18 AM, Scott Berkun wrote:

> Yes - I'd go even further and blame development tools. Here's a
> theory:
>
> 1. The design of development tools is indifferent to the making of
> good UI.
> 2. Programmers are efficient (or lazy :)
>
> Therefore
>
> 3. Programmers will tend to make bad UI... until development tools
> make it almost as easy to make good UI as it is to make lazy UI.
>
> A development tool that makes it easy to follow basic UI guidelines
> is 20 times more valuable than any book on UI design. Instead of
> blaming programmers, it'd be better to aim at the programmers who
> make tools for programmers.

Designers are getting involved in those too. One could argue, in fact,
that the most important interaction (and visual design) being done
today is in the "tools for making other tools" realm. Baking in good
design farther upstream will yield better results for everyone
downstream.

Make it easy to do good.

Dan

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