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To err is human…

Tanya Goodin
Tanya Goodin
10 May 2007

… to forgive divine. Well, this is how the famous quote from Alexander
Pope goes, but I don’t think that he had technology in mind when he
made it.

The initial statement is still applicable as the one thing that is
forever is that people will make mistakes, both in designing technology
and with using technology, but forgiveness on either side is not really
going to help, is it?

What you need is both thoughtful and tested designs as well as carefully planned error handling and messaging.

There are standard types of errors that people make that any
well-trained usability professional should be able to identify. As
always, though, the best method for getting meaningful feedback is
through user testing. If you don’t have the resources to do planned
testing, just having other people on the team, besides the designer and
developer, use the application will provide useful feedback.

In terms of messaging there are a couple of points to keep in mind:

1. If the page contains form elements or other actionable items,
know that people will probably not read directions before they start as
they will be compelled to go straight to the action. If you have help
text, put it next to the relevant field or element.

2. For error messaging in a form, list the errors both at the top of the page and in the form next to the field with the error

3. Make sure error messages are meaningful and help the person
resolve the issue by giving specific directions on how to correct the

As Don Norman said in The Design of Everyday Things, “If an error
is possible, someone will make it. The designer must assume that all
possible errors will occur and design so as to minimize the chance of
the error in the first place, or its effect once it gets made. Errors
should be easy to detect, they should have minimal consequences, and,
if possible, their effects should be reversible”.



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