It can be incredibly frustrating when things do not go to plan. In an online environment there are always going to be mishaps due to human error or some kind of technology or design failure. 

Nobody likes to encounter resistance in their daily activities, but the PC generation is used to things going wrong, as well as the ridiculous error messages that are sometimes displayed when problems occur.

How you communicate issues is highly important, and there are any number of ways of getting it right, or wrong, as we shall see…

So what can you do? 

If something breaks, be it a form, or a process, or a webpage or server, then you just have to get on with it. Visitors / users may instinctively want to bolt, but this is an opportunity for you to keep them engaged.

A neat error message can help reassure prospective customers, to encourage them to take a deep breathe and persevere, to do something differently, or to try again later. 

A rubbish error message can push people away or frustrate / enrage / leave a bad taste in the mouth. Sometimes they’re just laugh out loud funny (but not usually for the right reasons!).

There’s no rulebook here: you simply have to do what’s right for your brand, using the right tone of voice. We’re currently showing a video of our CEO falling on his ass while skiing, whenever something breaks. 

The one guideline I’d suggest is to be honest and clear in your messaging. There’s no point baffling users, nor leaving them with a WTF face.

So let’s take a look at a few examples of error messages from the world of technology and websites. Some are more amusing (and perplexing) than others…

Doh!

Keyboard controller failure: “Strike the F1 key to continue”

Blinded by science / guff

Critical Error: “General protection fault!”

In total denial

“No error occurred”

But why?

It might be this that or the other…

Kernel freakout: “You need to restart your computer.”

A Mach 3 fix at Facebook?

“Search is currently unavailable. Please try again later or right now.” 

The wrong message given the circumstances

“Sorry – to use BBC iPlayer you need the following” (displayed when ‘the following’ are all installed)

Downright perplexing

“Evolution error. Error while refreshing folder. Success. Ok.”

Unconvincing

Even less of a clue

One for the philosophers

“Test cannot be started because it already does not exist.”

All your base are belong to us

Blimey… “info not got”

Clarity, obviously…

37signals

last.fm

Pretty pictures

Twitter

iStockPhoto

A lighter tone

“Try wiggling the cable”

 “Please twiddle your cables and then try again.”

“Im in ur serverz making thingz better”

“A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation.”

What else have you seen out there…? Comments and suggestions below…