Projects/Usability/HIG/Messages

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Warning and Error Messages

Warning and error messages appear when a problem or error has occurred.

Language

Warning dialogs should be:

  • Understandable: Phrase your messages clearly, in non-technical terms and avoid obscure error codes.
  • Specific instead of general: If the message is reporting a problem concerning a specific object or application, use the object or application name when referring to it.
  • Informative and constructive: Tell the user the reason for a problem and help on how to solve the problem.
  • Polite, non-terrifying and non-blaming: Avoid wording that terrifies the user ("fatal", "illegal"), blames him for his behavior, and be polite.


Confirmation buttons

  • To close a warning or error message that does not require further user interaction, provide a Close button. Do not use an OK button. Users may get confused if they are asked to confirm an error.
  • Use buttons which match the type of statement or question made in the warning or error message. For example, do no ask a Yes/No question but then provide OK/Cancel buttons.
  • When the user must choose between two actions to continue, use descriptive button labels instead of standard Yes/No or OK/Cancel buttons. For example, if the user must choose to continue or stop an action, provide the buttons "Continue" and "Cancel".


Details on demand

  • Provide only a short error message and complement it by a Details button that provides more a detailed explanation in the same error dialog.
  • If it makes sense for this kind of error, link from the error dialog to the corresponding page in the help system. Provide a Help button then.


Which widget to use

  • Use dialogs for critical error messages, and when you need to make sure that the user sees the message.
  • Use info panels for non-critical messages which do not require any further user interaction (typically dialogs with a single "OK" or "Close" button).

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