Error messages and UX: a complete guide

Torresburriel Estudio
5 min readApr 24, 2024

Error messages are crucial elements in UX design, as they play a key role in communicating with users when problematic situations or errors occur. Providing effective error messages helps users understand what went wrong, how they can fix it, and reduces overall frustration, thus improving the experience.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

In this article, we will explore different aspects related to error messages in UX. We will analyze common types, discuss best practices for creating effective error messages, and explain some advanced strategies for enhancing user experience. By the end of this blog, you should have a solid understanding of how to design and implement them.

Error messages in UX

Error messages are notifications that inform users about problematic situations or errors within an interface. Their main purpose is to guide and help users understand the problem and provide guidance on how to solve it. To be effective, they must be clear, concise, and tailored to the user’s context.

They can have a significant impact on the perception of an application or website. If they are confusing, uninformative, or do not offer a clear solution, people can feel frustrated, disoriented, or even abandon the platform entirely. On the other hand, if they are well-designed and helpful, they can enhance trust and encourage a more positive experience.

Effective messages are those that clearly communicate the problem, provide guidance on how to solve it, and are written in understandable language. On the other hand, ineffective error messages are vague, confusing, or do not provide useful information. It is essential to avoid technical jargon, generic messages, or blaming the user for the error.

Common types of error messages

Each type of error message has its purpose and specific context, and understanding the differences between them is necessary. This way, we can design and use effective strategies to communicate with users and help them solve problems appropriately.

Here are some of the most common ones we might encounter:

  • Form validation errors. These appear when a form is submitted with incomplete or invalid fields. The messages should be specific, indicating which fields require attention and offering guidance to correct the errors.
  • Connection or loading error messages. These appear when there are connection problems or the loading of a page or function is interrupted. They should be informative and reassure the user, providing options to retry or look for alternatives.
  • Authentication and authorization error messages. These occur when users have problems authenticating or accessing certain functions due to insufficient permissions. The messages should clearly explain the problem and offer instructions for resolution, such as resetting the password or requesting additional access.
  • Incorrect data entry error messages. These occur when users enter incorrect data, such as wrong date formats or invalid passwords. They should explain the specific error and provide examples or suggestions for correction.
  • Action or function unavailable error messages. They inform users when an action or function is temporarily unavailable or due to specific restrictions. They should clearly explain why the action cannot be performed and, when possible, provide alternatives or suggestions to move forward.

Best practices for effective error messages

Through these practices, we can ensure that messages are clear and understandable at a glance, avoiding ambiguity and using clear and accessible language for all users. By following these practices, we can design effective error messages that enhance the user experience and reduce frustration in problematic situations.

  • Clarity in the error message. They should be brief and understandable at a glance. Avoid ambiguity and use clear language to communicate the problem to the user.
  • User-friendly and understandable language. Use a friendly and empathetic tone. Avoid using technical terms and jargon, and make sure the language used is accessible to all users.
  • Clearly indicate the problem and offer solution suggestions. Communicate clearly and precisely what the error is and provide instructions or suggestions to resolve it. Help the user understand what went wrong and how they can correct it.
  • Provide real-time feedback. They should appear quickly after the error occurs, so users can address it immediately. Real-time feedback helps users understand that an error occurred and prevents confusion.
  • Avoid using technical or confusing jargon. Use simple language and avoid using technical terms that may confuse the user. They should be understandable even to those without technical knowledge.

Advanced strategies for error messages in UX

In addition to the best practices mentioned above, there are additional techniques that can take error messages to the next level.

  • Use of microinteractions and subtle animations. Microinteractions and subtle animations can help highlight errors and provide a more intuitive experience for the user by showing how to correct them.
  • Customization of error messages according to context. Tailoring messages to the specific context of the user, such as their level of experience or preferences, can improve the relevance and comprehension of the messages.
  • Use of preventive error messages. Instead of waiting for users to make mistakes, preventive messages can help anticipate problems and offer proactive guidance to avoid common errors.
  • Leveraging visual design to highlight errors. Using contrasting colors, icons, or standout visual elements can help make error messages more visible and effectively draw the user’s attention.
  • Usability testing and evaluation of error messages. Conducting usability tests with real users and collecting feedback on messages can help identify areas for improvement and optimize the effectiveness of the messages.

Tips for implementing and testing error messages in UX

Here are some key design tips for error messages:

  • Incorporate error messages from the early stages of design. It’s important to consider them during the design and development process of an interface. This ensures they are taken into account from the beginning and integrated coherently into the user experience.
  • Conduct usability tests and gather user feedback. Usability testing with real users allows you to identify issues and assess their effectiveness. Collecting feedback and opinions from users helps to refine and adapt them according to the needs and expectations of the users.
  • Iterate and improve error messages based on test results. Use data and feedback from usability testing to continuously iterate and improve messages. As recurring problems are identified, adjustments and improvements can be made to the messages to optimize the user experience.

In conclusion, error messages play a fundamental role in the design of the user experience. Providing effective error messages helps users understand what went wrong, how they can fix it, and reduces overall frustration, thus improving the overall experience.

By effectively implementing and testing error messages, we can improve the user experience, foster trust, and reduce frustration in problematic situations. Well-designed error messages are an integral part of any successful user interface and contribute to providing a positive and satisfactory experience for users.



Torresburriel Estudio

User Experience & User Research agency focused on services and digital products. Proud member of @UXalliance