Error messages that make you feel stupid

November 18, 2011

Back in 2008 I wrote a post on writing useful error messages (https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/04/03/writing-useful-error-messages/), where I stated:

The worst kind of error is one that tells the user nothing and doesn’t help them recover from the error condition.

Also, don’t insult the user or call them stupid… there are many ways developers call users stupid without saying so. For example: “The password is wrong! [OK]”. This sort of error message doesn’t help the user at all, and they feel idiotic for not knowing ‘what the computer wants’. The exclamation mark so beloved by certain developers is like a slap in the face and just adds insult to injury.

Well, I came across one a few days ago that:

Here it is:

Error message with an exclamation point

Thanks for making me feel unworthy

There was no other information on how I could get these obviously special privileges available only to the very few. Even a line about contacting my system administrator might have lessened the impact of this error message.

Removing the exclamation mark would have done a lot to convert this message from a ‘You are too stupid to have privileges’ insult to just a statement of fact. That single punctuation mark in a message such as this has the power to make a person feel like an idiot.

[Links last checked November 2011]

One comment

  1. Or, when logged into WIN 7 Ultimate (my desktop) -AS- the Administrator, when trying to install an update to an existing application, you get the ever so helpful:

    “You need Administrator privileges to install this application. Please change users and try again.”

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