Creating Error Message: Your Users Are Human Too

I was trying to upload a new profile picture to Yahoo! Pulse, when I got this error message:

Yahoo! Pulse error message when uploading picture

The title was clear enough to tell that there’s an error in uploading picture, but the detail of the error was very interesting, if I were the developer, not as a user. I felt dumb as well: “Did I make a mistake?”, “How come I didn’t understand their message?”

If you’re an average user, can you tell what that message is about?

Creating an error message is not about displaying what happened on the server. It has to help user to achieve what he was trying to do. A good error message tells users:

  1. What has happened
  2. What was wrong
  3. What to do
  4. If any, the consequences of their actions

Looking at the Yahoo! Pulse error message, we can create a more humane message, like someone talking to the users, instead of machine talking to the users:

Oops! You’re trying to upload a new profile picture, but we can’t process it on our server. We’re over capacity for now. Our bad. You can try again now, or wait for a few minutes.

Try again | I’ll do it later

Sounds better, doesn’t it?

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