Error messaging

How we help guide our members when an error occurs

Types of messages

There are 4 main types of messaging

  1. Errors: A problem that has already occurred
  2. Warnings: A problem that could occur in future
  3. Confirmations: Asks the user if they wish to continue with a selected action
  4. Notifications: Informs the user of useful product or system information

Error messaging

3 key things the user needs to know

  1. The problem
  2. The cause?
  3. The solution?

The problem

Tell the user what happened

  1. Speak like a human
  2. Be specific to the user’s task
  3. Do the heavy lifting - don’t make them think

The cause

Tell the user why the error happened

Consider who’s at fault:

  • the user?
  • giffgaff?

Use this to determine the next step: the message

User fault?

It’s natural. Users make mistakes

Be clear. Don’t blame them. Guide them:

  • Please enter your username
  • Don’t forget to include an @ symbol in your email address
  • Invalid field
  • You didn’t enter your username

giffgaff’s fault?

We’re only human. We make mistakes too

Explain and direct the user’s next steps:

  • Do they need to refresh the page?
  • Do they need to contact someone?

The solution

Direct the user’s next steps to solve the problem

  • Speak like a human
  • Be specific to the user’s task
  • Be clear and do the heavy lifting: don’t make them think

Helpful tips

Tips to consider when writing error messages

There’s always room for improvement

Regularly review your error message copy. Try to see it from a user’s perspective. Is there anything that can be changed to help make the copy better?


  • Does it explain the problem?
  • Does it help guide the user to the next step?
  • Does it offer a solution?

Know your audience

Make sure your messaging works for your audience. And is it right for the situation?


  • Is it too formal?
  • Is it too bland?
  • Is it too silly?

Mind your words

Sometimes, even with the best intentions, our copy can be off-putting to our members, or even annoying


  • Avoid negative words
  • Don’t be vague. Specify what’s wrong
  • Humour helps ease the tension in some instances, but not all


  • Clear copy can help reduce user error cases
  • Fewer user error cases, the better the experience for the user