Read time: 4 min
Users don't like errors any more than designers do. Don't make it worse than it already is.
What is it?
This is InVision's attempt at a 404 error message. It happened after clicking a link on their website.
Take a closer look at the main text.
Why is it bad?
There are some universal guidelines for error messages. And this error message violates at least 3 of the 5 basic ones.
According to the guidelines; error messages should be:
Explicit: I'd say it passes this criteria. It's pretty obvious that something has gone wrong and that I didn't get what I wanted here.
Human-readable: Again, it passes this test. There are no long error codes or complex phraseology that are completely useless to the average user.
Precise: Here's where things get a little off. A precise error message will give the user a description of exactly what went wrong. Here the phrase "You broke everything" is not precise at all.
Constructive advice: They do give advice here, but it's not constructive. Returning to the homepage does not help me in my mission to find what I want. In fact, it makes me start over, possibly to a point farther removed from where I was in my search (which was the case for me). If a user is several layers deep into a page search, going to the homepage fixes nothing.
Polite: This is where the message fails the most for me. This message may be the most insulting error message I've ever seen. It implies that the fault falls completely on the user. That they were the ones who did something wrong, not the designer, developer, or the technology being used. And if that isn't enough, it puts the responsibility of fixing it on the user. "Well pardon me for visiting your website from a link you sent me and then breaking everything. Here, let me fix your website for you by clicking on the homepage link." Also, implying that the user is lost, also puts blame on them, not you. Odds are they knew exactly where the link they clicked that produced the error would have taken them.
It will be obvious to some that this is an attempt at humor from InVision. It's not uncommon at all for websites to get creative with their 404 error pages. And when you consider the audience of InVision (designers and developers) they will have had their fair share of experience with these messages.
But in the situation in which I experienced it was extremely detrimental to me ever becoming a customer. I was researching one of InVision's peripheral products and trying it out. I was searching all over for a page that I had seen before, but for some reason could not find again. I tried searching all over their site, I tried Googling the page directly. Nothing. For many minutes I searched . During that search I became increasingly aggravated that I couldn't find something that I knew existed. During this moment of intense frustration this error message popped up. It frustrated me so bad I began researching InVision's competitors. At this moment, I'm still undecided, but it hugely hurt my image of the product I was evaluating in that moment.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Don't insult your users. Ever. For any reason. Even in humor. You cannot predict the mood in which users will encounter it and the net results of that encounter.
How could it be improved?
Make it more precise. Explain what went wrong. Don't deflect blame to the user. Give proper constructive advice on how to fix it. Don't be rude. It's OK to be creative and funny with error messages, but this one misses it's mark.