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How Do You Get Users To Read Error Messages?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the pain-stimuli dept.

GUI 951

A BOFH writes "The longer I do desktop support, the more it becomes obvious that my users don't read anything that appears on their screen. Instead, they memorize a series of buttons to press to get whatever result they want and if anything unexpected happens, they're completely lost. Error logs help a lot, but they have their limits. I've been toying with a few ideas, but I don't know if any of them will work and I was hoping my fellow Slashdotters could point me in the right direction. For example, I was thinking about creating icons or logos to identify specific errors. They might not remember that an error is about 'uninitialized data' but they might be more able to remember that they got the 'puppy error' if I showed a puppy picture next to the error message. Or for times when finding images is too time consuming, you could create simple logos from letters, numbers, symbols, colors, or shapes, so you could have the 'red 5' error or 'blue square' error (or any combination of those elements). I've even wondered if it would be possible to expand that to cover the other senses, for example, playing a unique sound with the error. Unfortunately, haptic and olfactory feedback aren't readily available. I like to think that my users would remember the error that caused them to get a swift kick in the balls. And if they forgot it anyhow, I could always help them reproduce it. Does anyone else have experience with ideas like these? Did it work?"

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First Post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315186)

etc

Electric Shock (4, Funny)

bytethese (1372715) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315198)

Using Bluetooth to activate a transmitter in the seats of our users, we've had a 671% increase in efficiency when helping our users due to increased "awareness" of error messages.

Re:Electric Shock (5, Funny)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315246)

We attempted that in our own organization, but the fact that no one read any error messages didn't change. All that did change was that we now had a large mass of grown adults who wet themselves. What we did find effective was sending the individuals to a kindergarten, where they would be taught how to read. Electroshock treatment continued, however, as a means to address the stress of the help desk personnel.

Electric Shock v2.0 (3, Funny)

bytethese (1372715) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315330)

We also had the same issue at first, my apologies for not clarifying. Our version 2.0 system includes a small amount of absorbent material woven into teh seat bottom that can hold 50X it's weight in liquid. We now call the system the Electric Shock Wow system.

Re:Electric Shock (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315530)

Activate webcam. Take picture of user. Set as dialog icon. They WILL pay attention.

Make it turn the volume up (4, Funny)

mikesd81 (518581) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315204)

and let out a big screech followed by the sound of glass breaking and it saying "Danger Will Robinson! Danger!"

Re:Make it turn the volume up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315210)

Or just show a pair of breasts

Re:Make it turn the volume up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315700)

Actually, just show a porn picture. Most people won't remember E0x332423 error, but (most men anyway) will remember a pair of DD's getting mushroom stamped...

You may need to come up with another alternative for women/gay men tho...

Re:Make it turn the volume up (1)

Phroggy (441) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315526)

and let out a big screech followed by the sound of glass breaking and it saying "Danger Will Robinson! Danger!"

This is almost exactly what several models of Macintosh computers do upon failing POST. You can trigger it manually by pressing the debug button at just the right time after turning on the power. The sound I'm referring to specifically is this one [froods.ca] , played at maximum volume.

credit [froods.ca]

Automation (5, Funny)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315212)

they memorize a series of buttons to press to get whatever result they want and if anything unexpected happens, they're completely lost.

Sounds like their jobs are easily automated. Tell them if they don't pay closer attention to error messages you'll inform their boss how to replace them with another computer program. ;)

Re:Automation (4, Insightful)

EvilNTUser (573674) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315444)

I know users whose definition of unexpected is that they have to copy text from a program they've never used before. You couldn't handle that with a script, but how these people have a job not requiring a broom is an eternal mystery.

I don't think UI designers should try to pander to them either, because it will make programs unbearable for everyone else.

And they can VOTE to regulate people's lives! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315688)

"how these people have a job not requiring a broom is an eternal mystery."

And the can VOTE to regulate people's lives!

Re:Automation (0, Offtopic)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315500)

What if eventually any job you can do can be done better and more cheaply by an AI? What should happen to you then?

I hope the AIs or "Posthumans" keep us around as well-cared-for pets because they are fond of us (or think we're cute). I doubt that enslaving and mistreating the first few AIs is going to help improve the odds of that scenario happening.

Or setting a precedent that just because some people are stupid/ignorant it's OK to mistreat them (see the electroshock proponents above).

I'm personally guilty of treating ignorant/stupid people badly every now and then. But I suggest that it's not something one should aspire to do, and it's something that you have to fight against.

Many people think they're very intelligent. But high intelligence is overrated.

Yeah, That'll Work (1)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315680)

Because the bosses are hanging on every word and observation that the Help Desk Guy shares with them.

Firefox plugin install method (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315220)

Just put a timer on the buttons that won't let them click it for 10 seconds... but ultimately you can't fix stupid.

careful (3, Funny)

JayRott (1524587) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315224)

I do like the ball-kicking error idea, but be careful which one you use. Windows can be testy and the last thing you need unprovoked genital damage when you are trying to fix a workstation.

Re:careful (1)

SailorSpork (1080153) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315350)

Also, note that you'll need a different solution for the female workforce.

Re:careful (1)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315644)

The "Titty-Twister" (tm) option perhaps?

Re:careful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315678)

It's the cunt punt.

Waste of time. (5, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315228)

Do yourself a favour and produce a one-click tool that collects all the info that you need (logfiles, version numbers, registry listings) and sends it to you. If you can make it 0-click, even better.

Re:Waste of time. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315300)

Yep. Lots of software packages now have automatic crash reporters. An on-demand error reporter should be even simpler to implement. If they got an actual error message from your program, there's no reason it shouldn't be written to the log as well.

Re:Waste of time. (3, Interesting)

MontyApollo (849862) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315402)

The "one-click send me the info option" is definitely the best solution.

What is annoying is that in many Windows programs (at least Office 97) you can't even copy and paste the error message text. Your only option is to do a screen capture of the window.

Re:Waste of time. (5, Informative)

oscartheduck (866357) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315640)

Try clicking on the dialog box, hitting ctrl-c, then opening notepad and hitting ctrl-v. It's non-intuitive that you don't have to highlight the text, but it normally works.

Pop up the error message in a box... (4, Interesting)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315238)

...with no "Dismiss" button. The message would stay on the screen until the user talks to you and you tell them how to get rid of it.

Re:Pop up the error message in a box... (3, Interesting)

EdZ (755139) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315326)

Or, have a psuedorandomly changing key-combination required to close the message. To find the key combination, they must read the message. Position of the key combination in the message also changes, so they can't just learn to look in a certain location each time.

Re:Pop up the error message in a box... (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315448)

from summary:

Instead, they memorize a series of buttons to press to

and from your:

To find the key combination, they must read the message.

I would combine those 2 : On your regular screens: change the order of the buttons/text on the buttons, so they HAVE to read them.

Re:Pop up the error message in a box... (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315690)

User complaints would force you to remove this pretty quickly, I'd think. Nice idea though.

Re:Pop up the error message in a box... (1)

Spad (470073) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315458)

That tends to only work once (depending on the IQ of your users).

Re:Pop up the error message in a box... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315460)

Unless you can convince intel to change the ATX spec, or the IEC to produce a new flavor of locking IEC plug, there will always be (at least) two "dismiss" buttons.

The one that you used to turn the computer on(just hold for 12 seconds), and the long flexible one running between the computer and the wall.

Make the error memorable (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315242)

As said, users learn what to do to get past the error, without remembering the actual error. Make what they have to do depend on the error, for example, make them type the error number. Or better, make them write error number down, and then type it middle digit, next right, second left, third right, etc.

Newall

Re:Make the error memorable (5, Insightful)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315536)

As a corrallary: Reduce the number of errors/confirmation dialogs they see on a regular basis. If they regularly have to click-past dialogs, they get trained to do that without reading them. If the presence of a dialog means 'call helpdesk, and read the dialog to them', they are more likely to pay attention to it.

Make seeing a dialog an exceptional case, not a normal case.

Avoid what Firefox says (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315244)

...when it can't restore the tabs from the previous browser session.

"Well, this is embarrassing!" or something OMG-idiotic like that. Just give us our home page and shut up.

Re:Avoid what Firefox says (1)

Jonnty (910561) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315568)

It can recover them, it just doesn't want to because there could be some horrendous Java applet or plugin or something that's instantly crashing it, so it gives you the option to not recover that one. Firefox seems to be going downhill, but I like that feature, it's pretty nifty.

Popups!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315254)

Lots and lots of popups! They're great as they get in the user's face and FORCE them to see what you want to see. So I recommend POPUPS!! Oh and confirmation messages when they try to close the popups that say something like "Did you read the previous error message?"

Humor also helps (1)

Robyrt (1305217) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315260)

I remember EditPad's "Text encoding mismatch" error message, although it's a paragraph of obtuse text relating to something no normal user ever checks. Why? Because instead of saying "OK" at the bottom, the button said "Bummer."

Re:Humor also helps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315614)

Careful. The word "bummer" means different things in different places. Don't insult your users.

Better picture idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315262)

Guarantee they'll learn quickly to avoid the goatsea error.

Full screen (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315266)

with super big text, and a timer to keep it on the screen for a certain amount of time. I don't think they'd miss that.

Re:Full screen (1)

sleekware (1109351) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315306)

Don't forget to use brilliant colors that are harsh on the eyes!

Re:Full screen (5, Funny)

cc1984_ (1096355) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315636)

Don't forget to use brilliant colors that are harsh on the eyes!

Yes, let's make it blue just to make it stand out more.

And to ice the cake, maybe we should have it so the only way to get rid of the message is a reboot.

I think I may be on to something here.

Make others remember (5, Funny)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315268)

I've even wondered if it would be possible to expand that to cover the other senses, for example, playing a unique sound with the error

You're going about this the wrong way. You don't make the user remember, you make their colleagues remember. Supply your users with a 5.1 sound system attached to their PC and when the user encounters an error, the speakers blast "HEY EVERYBODY, I'M WATCHING PORNO OVER HERE".

As I said, make it a memorable experience.

I call it wack-a-mole (4, Interesting)

suso (153703) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315278)

I've often described the action of quickly clicking on ok on whatever window pops up as the wack-a-mole behavior. With Windows, I can't say I blame users for this behavior because the popups that come up are so frequent and so useless that they've kinda been trained to do this. Linux errors are usually more useful, descriptive and since the order of the buttons change from window to window, you have to be more careful. ;-)

Re:I call it wack-a-mole (1)

Spad (470073) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315498)

Linux errors are usually more useful, descriptive...

Let's be honest, to 90% of users they're still meaningless, annoying & immediately dismissed.

Re:I call it wack-a-mole (1)

SirTicksAlot (576078) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315648)

Sometimes Linux errors aren't that useful. Granted they are more useful than most Windows errors.

I've started collecting some of the less "useful" ones just for fun. http://www.solar1.net/index.php?pid=5 [solar1.net]

Re:I call it wack-a-mole (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315710)

You should ask my wife...

Do away with them (4, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315292)

There should be no errors. Period. Your program should not allow errors.

Now, if you're talking about a programming language or programming environment, that's different, but someone writing a program using your compiler/interpreter would be expected to read and understand the messages. But even there, some efforts are lax and feebel. I've gotten errors in MS Access that say error n: there is no message for this error". Boundary conditions for common "errors" are handled poorly; end of file, for example. If you make your own next/previous buttons to replace the puny little almost invisible Access buttons, there is no easy way to determming the beginning of the file, and Access returns an error in a big scary "stop" combo. This should be there in a debug mode, but a user shouldn't see it -- and Access' docs should be a lot more clear.

I'm not just talking about Microsoft, you're all bad about it. Well, not you -- your PHBs who want it shipped yesterday when the damned thing's barely out of alpha are bad about it.

With a graphics program or word processor, for an end user to see an error message is inexcusable. If your users are getting errors, your program is poorly designed.

Re:Do away with them (2, Insightful)

malkavian (9512) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315486)

Lovely, if you have the time and money to follow formal methods, but usually that's overkill. Which is why most programming languages have error trapping, which allows you to detect errors and handle them gracefully.
There are many unknowns that can happen. Hardware failures, memory corruption, OS doing something it shouldn't, the malware on the system is interfering, the vendor changed the API behind the scenes and so on.. You always, always trap for errors, even if you don't expect them. That's what it's all about.

For me, depending on how well I'd know the users, the error messages changed. Things I used to write for departments I was in at the time, or people I knew used to have messages for something going really awry (there was no way this was meant to happen) reading "User error: Please replace user and try again.".

When I was writing bespoke software for clients of mine, I'd be descriptive, and state gently in layman's terms approximately what was going on, why it was likely to have happened, and whether or not I needed to know about it. Errors could be on input sanitizing through "Can't find the database or network" to "Everything has gone catastrophically wrong. Call me now" type of errors.
I always found that the general "This is a note you did something wrong" is best handled in page by little icons.
Something that you really want to wake someone up to, as a larger issue is in play (can't find the network or some such) warrants a dialog box, with an curvy icon and yellow background, with explanatory messages put simply on it; no 5 page essays, just a simple overview and a link to a 'help page' to help them solve it if possible (even if that is just an explanation followed by 'phone the service desk' at your site).
The big problems deserve a spiky looking icon with a red background. Again a simple explanation that says "This is really bad, call someone please"; definitely worth of a message that leaves them understanding that "This Is Bad".

Re:Do away with them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315514)

There should be no errors. Period. Your program should not allow errors.

...

If your users are getting errors, your program is poorly designed.

So how should you deal with (for example) the user entering an invalid invoice or order code that you have to check against the back-end servers? Guess which one they *really* meant?

Re:Do away with them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315608)

With a graphics program or word processor, for an end user to see an error message is inexcusable. If your users are getting errors, your program is poorly designed.

I get your point, but that's naive.

Users pointing your software to the wrong types of files, external harddrives being disconnected while in use, network connection being lost or simply "hard" hardware failure such as failing hard drive sectors or memory corrupted bits in memory are but a few examples that simply cannot be handled gracefully without making the user aware of the problem.

Re:Do away with them (2, Insightful)

Phroggy (441) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315622)

There should be no errors. Period. Your program should not allow errors.

I agree: errors should not be allowed. That's why, when the user does something dumb, instead of allowing an error to occur, you should display a message on the screen alerting the user to the problem and informing them of how to fix it, so that an error doesn't occur.

Come on, seriously?

Re:Do away with them (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315712)

I see you've never dealt with software that interacted with other software, or networks, or external services, or external drives that might be disconnected...

Fixed Penalty (4, Interesting)

newbe5 (1426619) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315296)

We have found that the only way to make users take responsibility for errors is to give them a penalty for forcing the error to go away. For starters, where possible, the error wont actually close for them unless we enter an admin password to make it go away, and if they reboot to get rid of it (Task Manager is disabled on all client PC's) the machine will not open the application that crashed for 15 minutes. Of course, this all depends on the type of users you are dealing with, as more technically adept users wouldnt accept this kind of system, but after trying for literally YEARS to make users take responsibility for crashes and making sure the IT department is aware of them in order to fix the issue before it gets too hard to manage, these are the only steps that worked. Now, all of our end users are aware that if they ignore errors, they are going to suffer for it themselves.

Re:Fixed Penalty (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315668)

Yet an other IT department that regards its users as nuisances. I'm sure the feeling is reciprocated.

Java errors vomitted out in a dialog box.... (4, Insightful)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315298)

...are the worst evil ever unleashed on support analysts. There's nothing more fun than your average dead-ender mindlessly reading eighteen Java bomb strings and ending with "so that's the problem." Why not just display a skull and crossbones image? It'd probably save some time.

Re:Java errors vomitted out in a dialog box.... (2, Funny)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315664)

Why not just display a skull and crossbones image? It'd probably save some time.

Indeed, that'll save lots of time:
User: Help, I get an error message
Support person: What does it say?
User: I dunno. It's just a piraty thingy. Skull & crossbones...
Support person: Well, if you get that, fix the problem
User: But how should I fix it?
Support person: I dunno. Maybe put on an eye-patch, take your sword, and wave it around to scare the problem away. Have a nice day.

Asking to much... (1)

dclozier (1002772) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315302)

Your expectations for users is to high. Better logging along with an option for the user to click and report the error they just encountered is about the best you could do. The single click should provide you all the information you need rather than expecting the users to fill in a form to complete the information. Of course this is provided that the errors fail gracefully. If this is web related it's best to not be displaying errors to users at all. Better logging is the way to go.

The classic way (4, Funny)

BhaKi (1316335) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315322)

Show the message in full screen using a blue background and white foreground. Just like a BSOD.

Re:The classic way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315554)

Show the message in full screen using a blue background and white foreground. Just like a BSOD.

User do not read these either!
They'll just press the reset button and restart windows...

Re:The classic way (1)

BhaKi (1316335) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315662)

But they'll at-least think something panic-worthy happened.

Available information content... (4, Insightful)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315324)

Your brown puppy/blue square system works great if there is only a very small number of possible error conditions inventoried in advance. However, this is not what usually happens. Good luck with reproducing Out of memory in /usr/share/wombat/xyz/abc.php line 515 as a pretty picture or as a an extra smelly fart.

Users have already trouble copy-pasting error message text into a mail (or reading it aloud on the phone), so how the hell are they going to do it with a sound or a smell? Well, the sound, they could still record it, and attach the recording to the mail, but you can be sure that the recording will be spoiled by the perp's coworker loudly sneezing or coughing midway through. After all, lusers are not afraid of sending in screenshots of error messages half-hidden by other windows either.

No, I think the problem is not the messages (textual messages should be the easiest to deal with, especially when asking for support via mail), but rather the users. And to fix those, you just need a baseball bat...

Similar setup as me. (5, Insightful)

B5_geek (638928) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315328)

I had done something very similar, but I kept it very simple for troubleshooting.
3 colours: red, amber, green
3 shapes: circle, square, triangle

Another idea I was toying with was to substitute traffic signs: ie. stop, yield, caution, etc.. but I found that people are used to ignoring those.

With my setup, it gave me 9 distinct error levels (more if I used them in combination), but 9 was good enough for me to track down most problems.
Shapes:
Circle - Bad Input (i.e. data field entry)
Square - Bad Output (i.e. printer jam)
Triangle - Back-end (db/php/html, etc..)
Red, amber, Green = error levels

Wow... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315334)

A bit bitter about the ID-10-Ts on the keyboards, perhaps?
This is why I think the world should be more dangerous... with the dangers clearly marked by logical but confusingly obfuscated signs.
Give schoolmarm evolution some help.

Go with what's known to work (2, Funny)

sjonke (457707) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315344)

Tell them that reading the message will enlarge their penis... which isn't too hard to achieve anyway.

This is a sore subject with me because it's true.. (5, Interesting)

ip_freely_2000 (577249) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315348)

In the late 90's our startup had HP as a customer for a new on-line product. One day, about six months after they had become a customer, we get a call saying our product does not work. At the end of a SIX HOUR support call, I got on a plane for a cross-country flight because we just could not duplicate or figure out the problem. At 7:00 AM that morning I arrive, and at about 7:03 AM had the problem figured out. HP had recently made a change to their nework removing the browser ID string when employees were surfing the net. Our product needed that information for some processing. Even though the error message was CLEARLY being displayed, not once in the previous day's support call did this get mentioned. "Oh, that happens all the time, it happens with all sorts of applications, so we just ignore it." We had a fix in place by 10 AM and I was back on a cross country flight that afternoon. All because the customer ignored an error message.

Re:This is a sore subject with me because it's tru (2, Interesting)

musikit (716987) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315520)

i've had this happen to me too. its to the point i log everything and i tell users i will not help them unless they provide a screenshot of the error and a log.

at that point you either get the screenshot and a log or the user stops using the product. either way support costs goes way down.

Error messages are for the programmers, not users (1)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315634)

In the late 90's our startup had HP as a customer for a new on-line product. One day, about six months after they had become a customer, we get a call saying our product does not work. At the end of a SIX HOUR support call, I got on a plane for a cross-country flight because we just could not duplicate or figure out the problem. At 7:00 AM that morning I arrive, and at about 7:03 AM had the problem figured out. HP had recently made a change to their nework removing the browser ID string when employees were surfing the net. Our product needed that information for some processing. Even though the error message was CLEARLY being displayed, not once in the previous day's support call did this get mentioned. "Oh, that happens all the time, it happens with all sorts of applications, so we just ignore it." We had a fix in place by 10 AM and I was back on a cross country flight that afternoon. All because the customer ignored an error message.

I have two questions for you:
1. Why does your application care about the browser ID string so much that it is unusable when there is an unexpected value?
2. Why didn't your application phone home with the higher error levels so the application experts (i.e. you) could diagnose the problem?

It's funny that you blame this problem on your customer. Is this startup you were working for still in business?

Re:This is a sore subject with me because it's tru (0)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315682)

You were walking the user through the process, and you never asked them what's on the screen?

Put the error in the form of a Joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315388)

Worker Drones love to open attachments and read jokes. Use this to your advantage and profit.

captcha: formats

Re:Put the error in the form of a Joke (1)

bb5ch39t (786551) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315592)

Ah, no! Present all messages in Haiku format only. Or make the default button automatically link to the H.R. site and submit a resignation.

Users are too impatient to read (1)

TUOggy (1253848) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315404)

People will never read their error messages. You can make the windows as irritating as possible by forcing them to wait 3 seconds before they can press OK, but they'll just sit there and rapidly click on the grayed out OK button until it becomes available. If you really want to see the text of an error message, force a screenshot when an error occurs. Then you can see not only what the error was, but also how much other crap they're doing that they're not supposed to be doing. Between that and the logs, you should be good.

Or you could have them enter a unique code before allowing the OK button to be pressed. That way they have to call TS to get the code. That would guarantee that you would get the message. The problem is that you would get so many extra calls that you wouldn't be able to do anything else.

FTFY (5, Funny)

jalefkowit (101585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315410)

Dear Slashdot,

I am filled with a black, unutterable contempt for the troglodytic users of my application. Can you suggest ways to translate this contempt into software?

If clicking the OK box makes the error go away... (5, Insightful)

91degrees (207121) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315414)

It's not an error. Errors prevent you from continuing. The only thing approaching an error is the little box telling you there's a problem. That is solved by the user clicking "OK".

The entire way errors are handled is wrong. I don't know what the solution is but I very much doubt it's a simple modification to the current fundamentally flawed system.

choices (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315426)

What error does the "women's underwear" icon stand for?

Re:choices (2, Funny)

malkavian (9512) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315532)

Data is pants.

Re:choices (1)

tsergiu (1576293) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315638)

My firstborn

Save your sanity, give up now (5, Insightful)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315436)

I have been wondering about this for 30 years. End users are not interested in learning how the computer software works, except for how it lets them do their job. On-screen messages, manuals, fax-back systems, wiki pages, they don't care. What they want is to pick up the phone, make a call, and have someone tell them what to do. At first, I thought it was them being lazy. However, I now think it is closer to why programmers don't like to be interrupted in the middle of a task. The user has a mental model built up of their task, and they don't want to risk losing it while they search for information on an error. Making a phone call, and having someone else walk them through the problem solving means they can maintain their task in "main memory". For them, it is more efficient.

Anything but sounds, and error logging (1)

Wrexs0ul (515885) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315450)

I've been down that road. It's a good idea until you have a hundred people calling-in trying to hum the error to you. What's worse is you can't debug because they're tone-deaf :)

Seriously though, it sounds like you want a system that can record the error for your debugging purposes later-on without the user needing to remember a number of color. Why not just log the error in a system file, or better yet have it send a quick message to a central logger/email that you can check? Then you can be as technical with the data as needed and know the entirety of a problem before they call for a blue square.

Also, for self-debugging make sure you keep reported errors to simple, broad categories, ie: blue = file error, yellow = network error, etc.. The barrier for calling you with errors is when a phone call is less effort than thinking for themselves, and while there'll always be a group who aren't capable of the latter there'll be an equal number who can associate yellow with "unplugged network cable". This applies to sending people to help files as well, they won't look if it's easier to call you so it's a wasted popup.

Hope this helps,

-Matt

Get rid of the time rush that works are under as s (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315464)

Get rid of the time rush that works are under as some people may try to just get around the error so they don't have to wait on hold / go though all the level 1 stuff like reboot your system / and other stuff that do not get to what the error is.

Don't try to change user behaviour. (1)

Rennt (582550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315472)

Take a deep breath and remember that if users were savy enough to read and understand error messages - well, what would they need you for? You are there to make their jobs easier, not the other way around.

Not the users fault. (4, Insightful)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315476)

Stop pushing the inadequacies of the program on the users. If you come across the error, then log it. Why are you relying on a person to sit there and read back to you something that could just as easily be written to a file that they could send to you or read directly.

A good plot (4, Funny)

CodeHog (666724) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315482)

The error message has to have a good plot and some character development. Pull the users in with that and then get the error message across. Ok, seriously, as a writer of error messages at times, I have found putting in 'interesting' wording works sometimes with some of the more intelligent users. Unfortunately, there will always be the ones that just want someone else to do their work. I suggest that they be burned because they're witches.

They have no vested interest in the outcome. (4, Insightful)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315488)

Every day I have to fire up a Microsoft Access database program to clock in.

Every day the first thing it does is pop up a dialog box that says something like, "Only run this if you trust it".

I just hit OK.

It's not my problem if it works right or not.

a risk based approach (2, Funny)

ThaReetLad (538112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315496)

a risk based approach is required, so that users know that occasionally a message box will appear that will have serious negative consequences if they fail to take the correct action.

For example "If you don't turn around right now I'm going to smack you over the head with a baseball bat" [OK]

Guru Meditation (5, Insightful)

mrybczyn (515205) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315504)

Amiga had this right. Use a little humor with your messages, it may diffuse the anger and get some sympathy.

Make them retype it (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315510)

Add an input field on the error message that makes them type the text of the error (or the key bits, anyway) before they are allowed to dismess it.

Waterboarding (1)

drolli (522659) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315516)

I guess after you waterboard them for several hours when they dont tell you the error message, maybe they start to read it. However i have doubts about it. My experience rather says that when the secretary says "i could access the webpage which you mentioned about without problems" it means "yes, i also clicked away the warning about the missing certificate".

The best solution... (1)

rclandrum (870572) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315518)

...is an educated customer with which your technical support people can converse in an intelligent manner so they can listen as the user recreates the error by performing the original error-causing actions again.

Barring any intelligence on the other end, we have had good success with extensive error logs that are either automatically emailed to us or sent by the user to our technical support people. These logs tend to contain brief information that points directly to the offending code - i.e. routine name and even line number if possible, with small variable or data dumps when that would be helpful. This way our developers can see exactly where the error occurs and can either build in some bulletproofing or can backtrack the logic to see where the error originated. Just logging "error 5576" doesn't cut it unless there is only one place in the code where that error occurs and the developers can find it quickly by searching their code.

This type of log can be generated in cooperation with technical support - i.e. the end user selects a preference that starts logging - or it can simply run all the time and software keeps only the last few days of logs while deleting the older ones.

Another solution is to use webex - that way you can start a remote session and watch in almost real time as the user works - you can often catch things happening that the user would otherwise not report. This isa big help in rooting out issues where the real problem is user error.

You don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315522)

People can't handle the number and complexity of error situations which most programs unload on them. If you make the error messages more visible (or audible as someone else suggested), the users will only get more annoyed, not more informed. "Check engine". The engine of a car is not something which can be repaired in a few minutes at almost no cost, yet people frequently ignore that message.

Users will not read error messages. I've talked people through problems with their computers on the phone, repeatedly telling them not to click anywhere without me telling them to, but I still hear click click click-click. "Did you just click on something?" "I always click on that" "What did it say?" "I don't know, it was just a popup."

The solution is remote desktop software, or, if there is a problem with their network access or some hardware problem which prevents online assistance, on-site service. Users pay for it if it's important to them and if it's not important enough to them to pay for the solution, then it's not worth my time either.

Their lips get tired (5, Funny)

spywhere (824072) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315552)

I was the alpha geek on a Help Desk at a multi-state corporation, and the CIO had worked with me as an engineer before getting the job. When people too (self-)important to call the Help Desk had a problem, they would call him directly. He would give them to me, and I would make sure they were kept happy and their issues got resolved.

One day, after a vice-president had SCREAMED at him because they couldn't log on, he asked me what I had done to fix it.
I told him that their 'caps lock' had been on.
He asked, "Doesn't the Windows error message remind users to check that?"

I told him, "His lips got tired before he read down that far."

the solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315560)

Put the error message in a popup window with a background random pic from Sport Illustrated swimsuit edition.

Make error messages that are useful (3, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315574)

Number one answer would be to make error messages that are actually useful.

Here's an error I got recently. It's a pretty common error in our SAP* system: "Error Code: -1 Error Desciption: Code: K/101. Error occurred in derivation rule. See long text." (Please note that there is no long text.)

Here's another recent error message I encountered. Is this helpful?
You have either entered an invalid Member ID, an invalid PIN, or your User Account is locked. Please validate that you are entering the correct member ID and PIN and try to log in again. "
Translation: when you did the mandatory password change (required every 90 days), you entered a password that contained the } character. Although the rules say you must include symbol characters, we didn't mean that symbol character.

And dozens of other equally useless ones.

--
*"SAP" is not actually an acronym. It is the word used to describe the customers who have been persuaded to buy this software.

The way out of this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315602)

Again and again it seems that the best option would be to find out what a firm with staff lacking opposable thumbs and with an inability to read does to afford your fee. Then copy the business model using staff that can hold a fork and read at the same time. It would seem that the bar is not very high. Profit.

Screen Shot? (1)

Fear13ss (917494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315618)

I have roughly 50 users I support, of varying technical capacity. Yet 99% of them are completely comfortable capturing screen images of items they are unsure of. I suggest installing a simple to use print screen utility. My personal favorite for ease of use is FastStone Capture, which would require licensing, but it allows them to quickly capture part or all of the screen and attach it to an email in a few simple clicks. Since the error itself is almost more valuable then the log data, it could be relatively easy to justify the cost. It also may be beneficial to any users that update business processes or other documentation with screenshots. Hope that helps, and good luck. I'll be keeping an eye on the thread to see if anyone else has any great suggestions.

Distill them (5, Interesting)

cgenman (325138) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315628)

As a game designer, and sometime game UI designer, I feel your pain.

The best way to get people to read your error messages is to have very few of them. People just tune them out. If you're tossing up error messages for things like synchronizing to network shares before the user really needs to, or connecting to 3rd party tools that the individual tool can handle the error for, cut those. They'll get to those errors later anyway, or the problem will be fixed by then. The only error messages should happen when it is impossible to do what the user asked.

The ones that you do have should be 7 words or less, and should be both meaningful and in plain english (even for engineers). "Uninitialized Data" is technobabble, and "It Didn't Work" doesn't tell you anything. "Couldn't connect to the mail server" is much better, as it tells the user exactly what was wrong, but within a small enough space that by glancing at the textbox the user has already read it.

Icons are most likely going to confuse your users unless they directly relate to the error at hand. "Warning: Trojan Detected [panda kicking a soccer ball]" might be cute, but if people are already confused they're going to have a hard time remembering even the soccer ball. The conflict of visual imagery just muddies the water. Throw a needle on the screen, and everybody will remember in a panic that the error had a needle up there, but not what the text said. If that snippet of information is not enough to work from, you'll need to find a different solution.

Your solution : (2, Funny)

unity100 (970058) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315646)

Funny error messages. really funny. not 'microsoft' funny.

Your wasting your time (1)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315654)

The first thing you need to learn, that your slowly starting to learn, is that your user base can't be bothered. If they click a button and the error message goes away than they consider their problem gone. Unless they can no longer use their needed application, they will not both bother to call it in.

Look at the user experience for someone who does have to call it in. In many companies this means a call to a helpdesk in India, an aggravating set of phone menus and an unpleasant conversation. However if they just click the button, use task manager or reboot than they have 'solved' their problem themselves.

What you need to do is to adapt to your users instead of trying to get your users to adapt to you. Set up software on their computer that monitors for certain error codes. You can fairly easily set up different tools to look in the log files for certain events and than do something about it. That something could be as simple as a timestamp, taking a screenshot, recording all open applications and services and sending a notification to your helpdesk with the requisite log file.

Short of using something like another commentator said about disabling the users ability to do anything other than to report by using penalties, there isn't anything you can do get a user to report because the bottom line is that they can't be bothered.

How about pressing the print screen(PrtScn) button (1)

TheSunborn (68004) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315660)

How about just asking the users to press the print screen(PrtScn) button and send the screenshot to you.

Sweets! (2, Interesting)

Hauke (170754) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315666)

I've found, that promising sweets, say a tiny pack of gummibears, for any new error, that has not been seen before motivated everyone.
Simply ask them to make screenshots to prove that it is a new error and you are of.

Think about it. Finding Bugs this way makes fun and is totally worth the packet of sweets.
This really works!

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31315692)

You cant fix stupid...

Tech support LOL (1)

Lost Penguin (636359) | more than 4 years ago | (#31315698)

Many times when I ask a customer for the error message log, it will have the solution listed in the error log...
"Application whatzit cannot find the snapinfo lun, please rerun the whatzit configuration wizard"
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