— 18 May 2005 —

UI Error Messages

Error messages are often the last part of the interface design to be tackled.

Outlook error

The above error message, which you cannot read because the original is almost 800 pxiels wide, states:

You cannot forward an exception to a recurring meeting as an attachment. To forward the series, open the series, click the Actions menu, and then Forward.

First off, I have no clue what this means. I had to read it three times to get that somehow I was not in the correct “mode” to forward a meeting invitation.

Lesson 1: Write verbiage that people can understand. Duh. There’s no harm in testing your error messages.

The problem here is that I was offered the option to forward the meeting invitation in the menu. The same menu that the error message wants me to access once I finish deciphering its hyperglyphs. Not to mention that’s a lot of steps to recall if I don’t already know what I am doing.

Lesson 2: Don’t give users an option they cannot act upon.

Second off, WTF do I care about Outlook’s precious modes? Honestly, don’t you think Outlook could be kind enough to just forward the damn invite even though I am in “exception mode?”

Lesson 3: See Lesson 2. Then, build applications that allow the user to complete tasks. If the task is to forward a meeting invite, then build the damn thing to allow that to happen.

Forwarding a meeting invite happens a lot. If there is some sort of technical constraint that Outlook cannot overcome, why not prompt the user? Yes, you slow them down, but you may also provide them some value.

Lesson 4: Good apps are like Choose Your Own Adventure games, there’s a set workflow but at every decision point there’s more than one way to go, and each way is well established and repeatable.

Say all I wanted to do was forward today’s meeting invite. The original invite was set up as a recurring event. Instead of throwing me the error above, prompt me and ask, “Do you want to forward this single meeting, or the entire recurring series?”

In the end, there shouldn’t have even been an error situation here. Even without a prompt, just let me send the damn invite and be done with it.

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