I received the following error on a web site today:
An unexpected error has occurred and technical information regarding this error has been reported to the site administrator.
In order to improve the quality of our site, please contribute helpful feedback using the form below. Otherwise click here to return to the site.
This text was followed by a feedback form. There are a couple issues here:
- They already know what the problem is here. What feedback could I provide other than, “Fix it!”?
- On the other hand, I’m not entirely confident they have been alerted to the problem automatically.
- In fact, I’m not too confident the feedback form will actually get feedback to them, given the current error.
So I left the page and came here to post about it instead. 🙂
Pay attention to what your error messages say. Everyone has issues on their site now and then (I got a server error from the New York Times just yesterday). You should review all the standard error messages your site can generate and make sure they convey the right impression.
In this case, a form for an e-mail address and an offer to let you know when the problem was resolved could have been a good alternative to a standard feedback form.
Great suggestions, David! When I was a content strategy consultant, I used to do this for all my projects. All too few Web sites pay attention to error messages, and clear English ones really do instill confidence in the site from users.
A great book along this line is 37 Signals Defensive Design for the Web.
Thanks, Hilary! I agree that the ideas in the Defensive Design book are excellent. Quick read too.