…SYSTEM NOT FOUND. INSERT INSTALL DISC. DISC NOT FOUND. PLEASE CONFIRM DISC COVER IS CLOSED. READ ERROR. INSERT BOOT DISC AND PRESS ENTER. NO RESPONSE. SYSTEM MAY BE BUSY OR MELTING INTO SLAG. APPLICATION ERROR. SAVE YOUR WORK AND QUIT. YOU LOST EVERYTHING. WAY TO GO, GENIUS. WAITING FOR PROCESSORS. “404 computer hamsters not found.” THREAT LEVEL UPGRADED TO JELLY ROLL 1. DETONATION IMMINENT.
–Fracktail, the first boss in Super Paper Mario. Back story here.
Hello. We are a couple of software engineers from Seattle, currently rounding up a year-long sabbatical spent volunteering in various parts of the Global South. At different points during our year of volunteer work, we have been customers of both our own software (in development, end user, and administrative capacities) and that of other software publishers. It has been an excellent opportunity to get a little bit of distance from our day-to-day responsibilities and to reacquaint ourselves with software experiences from the user’s point of view. In the process, there have been many situations in which we have become very, very frustrated. Quite a few of these cases have involved extremely bad error UI, in which the error message or mode fails completely at communicating what has gone wrong and what must be done to correct it. In such cases, we have often had to resort to the internets for the answers, with varying success. Kenny has posted about a few of these experiences on his personal blog, and has received effusive notes of gratitude from other poor souls who encountered the same problems and were saved further headaches by his advice.
Thus the idea for this blog was born. We plan to post examples of egregious error messages and experiences, not only as a means to vent our frustration, but hopefully also as a resource for others who may encounter the same issues. In the process, we’ll poke a little fun at the authors of the software, who were doubtless under tight deadlines drowning in a sea of high-priority bugs, but we figure they deserve a bit of ribbing for failing to adequately appreciate or understand their end users.
Of course, it would be naive to believe that anyone can design programs – or users – that never fail. But we both firmly believe that most software developers, designers, and UI editors do not devote enough attention to how their software fails. Is it graceful, with a clear and actionable error message, whose instructions accurately identify the source and the remedy for the failure? Or does it leave the user frustrated and indignant, with large bruises on his forehead and dents in the wall from too much head banging?
On that note, I expect that we will also post examples of good error behavior from time to time. But not that often, since it’s less fun to post things we can’t make fun of.
We hope that you enjoy this blog, and we’d love to include your contributions. Check out the Submit an Error page for instructions on how to send us your favorite misleading error dialogs and exceptions. Bonus points will be awarded for relevant submissions that are not related to software.