Michael Gaigg: Über UI/UX Design

10Apr0

Design Guidelines: Error Messages

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Just some weeks ago I wrote about Design Guidelines for 404 Pages. Closely related are Error Messages in general, and believe me, they will save your life. That's why you need to get them right!

Why bad error message can hurt your company

Error messages are like saying "You are stupid", or "Come on old fart, you still don't get it?" - and that's bad, it's almost like constantly telling your kid "No, no, no". Be preventive, defensive and avoid Design Bloopers like the the one at Cingular: Having tried to log into my account the following error message appears "My Account is Currently Closed". Can you imagine the horror that bubbles up and the thoughts of who to call (but how?)? As it turns out Cingular was just maintaining their server and the only flawed thing was the error message. Is it possible to measure how much this little flaw will hurt the company?

Misleading and almost terrifying error message at Cingular

Misleading and almost terrifying error message at Cingular

Defensive Web Design

Prevent error messages whenever possible; e.g. "did you mean" at google.com

The beauty of usability design is to think of ways to prevent showing error messages at the first place. The most prominent example is probably Google. Have you ever seen an error message on Google? How great is the "Did you mean:" function... I even use it day by day as a spell checker, like I use google images to visualize words I didn't know (do you know what a vicuna is?).

Design Guidelines: Error Messages

  1. Avoid error messages if possible.
  2. Explicit indication that something has gone wrong
  3. Human-readable language
  4. Polite phrasing without blaming the user or imply that user is stupid or is doing something wrong
  5. Precise descriptions of exact problems
  6. Constructive advice on how to fix the problem
  7. Visible and highly noticeable, both in terms of message itself and how it indicates which dialogue element users must repair
  8. Preserve as much of the user’s work as possible
  9. Reduce the work of correcting the error (e.g. list of possibilities)
  10. Hypertext links may be used to connect a concise error message to a page with additional background information or explanation of the problem.

Did you ever encounter a 'special' error message?

Send me a screenshot and/or tell me the story behind it.

Suggested reading:
9Mar0

Design Guidelines: 404 Error Pages

Posted by Michael Gaigg

404 error

404 error

The 404 or Not Found error message is an HTTP standard response code indicating that the client was able to communicate with the server but either the server could not find what was requested, or it was configured not to fulfill the request and did not reveal the reason why.

Possible Reasons

Possible reasons for 404 error pages can be

  • click on a broken link
  • the page has been deleted
  • mistyped URL

Depending on your internet service provider (ISP) the standard 404 page can vary greatly in terms of visual display and information on the error itself. In order to not loose visitors it's strongly suggested to create a custom 404 page. A good custom 404 page will help people find the information they're looking for, as well as providing other helpful content and encouraging them to explore your site further.

Design Guidelines for 404 Pages

A good 404 error page conveys a right message and leads the visitor to where he intends to go:

  1. Tell visitors clearly that the page they're looking for can't be found.
  2. Use language that is easy to understand, non-technical, friendly and inviting.
  3. Display an error message that explains what could have gone wrong.
  4. Offer means to recover (e.g. list site's naming conventions, spell check functionality, most common problems).
  5. Offer links to other important links of the site (e.g. most popular, homepage, FAQ).
  6. Provide a way for users to report a broken link (easy form, email the webmaster).
  7. Do not display ads.
  8. Avoid redirection of 301 and 302.

Other Considerations

No matter how beautiful and useful your custom 404 page, you probably don't want it to appear in Google search results. In order to prevent 404 pages from being indexed by Google and other search engines, make sure that your webserver returns an actual 404 HTTP status code when a missing page is requested.

Got a nice 404 page?

Send me screenshots of your 404 error pages - I'd love to see them!

Thx to Claude Betancourt who sent me this 404 page (Figure 1) of Dow Jones Indexes telling me that "behind the scenes we capture all CGI and request scope variables, log it and email the admins to correct the error if necessary." Nicely done!

Sample 404 page from Dow Jones Indexes

Figure 1: Sample 404 page from Dow Jones Indexes

Another nice one with a funny little video:

Uh-oh, you hit a 404

Uh-oh, you hit a 404

References

10Dec0

Design Guidelines: Breadcrumbs

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Hansel and Gretel using breadcrumbs to find their way home.

Hansel and Gretel using breadcrumbs to find their way home.

Nobody wants to get eaten by a wicked witch and neither do Hansel and Gretel in the tale Hänsel und Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. That's why the kids, as they are taken into the forest, leave little breadcrumbs behind so they can find their way home. I love the story (especially when the witch climbs into the oven to be baked) and the fact that Hansel and Gretel find their way home and see that the evil stepmother has died and everybody can live happily ever after.

Even though the metaphor of Hansel and Gretel is probably the origin of the term Breadcrumbs it is flawed because breadcrumbs do not represent the actual path the user has taken to any given page, but instead the optimal path from the homepage to the current page in the hierarchy.

Fairytale aside, here is how Breadcrumbs should be designed and implemented:

Design Guidelines for Breadcrumbs

  1. Display breadcrumbs horizontally
  2. Progress from the highest level to the lowest, one step at a time
  3. Start with the homepage and end with the current page
  4. Apply a simple text link for each level (except the current page)
  5. Separator between levels is simple and one-character (usually “>”)
  6. Levels show the site hierarchy – not the user’s history

Code Sample / Template

End result:
Example Breadcrumbs

<div class="breadcrumbs">
<a href="#">Home</a>
<span>></spanv
<a href="#">Topic</a>
<span>></span>
<a href="#">Sub Topic</a>
<span>></span>
<strong>Node</strong>
</div>


div.breadcrumbs {
background: url(bg-breadcrumb.png);
overflow: hidden;
margin: 0;
padding: 0;
height: 2.8em;
line-height: 2.8em;
color: #666;
}
div.breadcrumbs a, div.breadcrumbs strong, div.breadcrumbs span {
float: left;
overflow: hidden;
height: 2.8em;
padding: 0 1em;
font-style: normal;
}
div.breadcrumbs span {
background: url(bg-breadcrumb-arrow.png) no-repeat left center;
overflow: hidden;
padding: 0 0 0 1em;
width: 0px;
filter: alpha(opacity=40);
opacity: 0.4;
}

download bg-breadcrumb.png | download bg-breadcrumb-arrow.png

References

15Oct0

Design Guidelines: Links

Posted by Michael Gaigg

"If links were married they'd get divorced all the time! That's because they can't keep their promise." (Gerry McGovern)

What Gerry means is that what links say they will do and what they actually do are total opposites. How many times have I believed, clicked and followed a link that promised me to 'Download this or that' just to find another page describing this piece of software. There I had to muddle through even more links just to find another 'Download version' link that yet again takes me to another page acknowledging the terms and conditions. The story could go on and on.

Remember: Good links are like magnets - they drive users to them.

With that in mind, here are the

Design Guidelines for Links

  1. Color and underline link text (exceptions include lists of links like a navigation menu)
  2. Reserve underlining for links (do not underline text that is not a link)
  3. Use different colors for visited and unvisited links (e.g. shades of blue)
  4. Avoid using color for text unless it is a link and never use blue for non-text links (even if your links are not blue)
  5. Avoid changing the font style on mouse over
  6. Avoid tiny text for links
  7. Use appropriate spacing between links or use a clear separator
  8. Use links primarily for navigation between pages
  9. Link text must be describe the target as short and precise (clear call to action) as possible AND hold this promise!

Best Practices

See my blog entry for Best Practices for accessible Content

References:

 

Suggested reading: