Form Validation Errors – don’t embarrass your users

Does it seem fair to scold the user for the errors they make while filling in a form? Are they even “errors”?

The term “Error” and the usual associated red colouring is remarkably negative. Almost like accusing the user of spilling blood by making a typo or misunderstanding a field’s intended purpose. Okay, perhaps that’s a little extreme, but it’s certainly not a fluffy “oopsie, shall we try again toghether?

To work towards better UX we need to be compassionate, to be empathetic. If the user, who you want (nay, need) to be on-side, makes a mistake when filling in your form, there’s nothing to be gained by making them feel daft or at fault.

This is a wonderful opportunity to improve the UX; simply by changing the tone of form validation messages from blame to guidance, your users are more likely to stick around.

Some systems, especially internal systems for staff, may have the slightly troubling luxury of being mandatory for the users, but that shouldn’t excuse a poor experience.

It’s important not to go so far into the fluffy language to appear patronising, and that can be a balancing act, so it’s worth working with copy editors, or even a small cross-section of the users, to land on appropriate messages.

Contrast “That’s not an email address!” with “Please confirm your email address.“. Indeed, compare the message “Your Order Reference must not contain spaces” with code that just ignores the space – avoiding the messages in the first place can hugely improve users’ experience, which can increase engagement and goodwill and sales.

We’re fortunate that we’re no longer writing things in stone. However uncomfortable it may feel to change something which exists already, we should use the freedom we have in software and web development, and make improvements wherever and whenever they’re identified.


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