Context Error Reporting

One of the biggest mistakes I see programmers make when writing an error message is to forget to include details about the context into the message.  The message effectively “assumes” that the reader knows the context, but that assumption is not always valid, and the error message can fail communicate. Continue reading

Error Message should be clear, plain, and direct

This post is about a real error message I received and puzzled through.  Luckily, because I was working with open source code, I was able to see a copy of the source, and only then did I understand what the message meant.  An error message should not require you to know and understand the source, in order to understand the message, and I think this is the root of the mistake that many programmers make. Continue reading

Usability Means Not Jumping Through Hoops

The image of being forced to jump through hoops is one of being required to take arbitrary actions in arbitrary orders just to satisfy some goals that are either unseen or at least not in the interest of the user. Some software is like that.  You have to perform functions that you don’t want to do, that you know you are going to get rid of, in order to satisfy some internal constraint of the software. Continue reading

The Purpose of Error Reporting

Error messages are part of every user experience, but too often these messages are poor, cryptic, and insulting.   Too often programmers do a half-hearted attempt at writing error messages, mostly because they mistakenly assume that users will never see them.  Too often programmers misunderstand the potential that results from writing correct error message.  Error messages can be the key to usability.  Error messages can help train users, and guide administrator.  All you have to do is understand the purpose of error reporting. Continue reading

Trasparency Advantage

This is an example of some open source software that I had difficulty using and how to improve it.  A common principle is that of transparency: when something goes wrong, don’t hide it.  Don’t cover it up.  Don’t attempt to continue as if nothing happened.  Report it properly and immediately.  A simple explanation of the situation will help a lot. Continue reading