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Error Messaging Patterns

Error messaging patterns are the patterns we use to tell a user that they can’t move forward in their current task because of the state of the system.

The goal of error messaging patterns is not to ensure that we prevent errors, (that’s a different set of patterns) but that when errors occur, the user can recover as quickly as possible to move forward.


Error messages can occur at four levels of the application:

Each of these scenarios requires a different form of treatment due to the causes and contexts of the errors.

Why this is important

By providing consistent error messaging we:

  • Increase the user’s confidence in our applications.
  • Increase the user’s confidence in their ability to use our applications.
  • Ensure higher efficiency of using the system (because the user isn’t slowed down by poor messaging or confusion).
  • Build trust in users that we know what we’re doing and are transparent about it.

Use when…

  • Error messages are only used for “hard stop” scenarios.

Do not use when…

  • The user can proceed but possibly shouldn’t. Use a warning.
  • The user can proceed and you have additional information for them. Use an info message.