The Comedy of Error Messages

We all make mistakes. Me (lol), I make them fairly often. But I do try and make up for them with a nicely worded apology of some sort.

Computers aren’t quite so good at this. Every so often, when you have a computerfail, you get a really nice error messages – quirky even, with a dash of self-deprecation. But mostly, they’re just aggressive, replete with angry bomb signs and intimidating, cryptic minus numbers that you’re somehow meant to understand.  When it’s the latter, it can be bloody annoying. Especially when you’re usually already a bit on the stressed side/you’ve got a deadline/it JUST WON’T PRINT For no good reason. ‘Error minus 42’ used to be my pet hate in my old job. I never did work out what it meant.

But more often than not, error messages can be really, really funny. Either because they’re downright rude, bizarrely hysterical, or just piss-poorly written.

With this in mind, our inner-geek has been diligently collecting screengrabs to share with you all. I think it’s funny to see the
spectrum – from hyper-aggressive to humble and friendly.

There are a couple of others to mention which aren’t pictured here. Like, whenever I try and make a call on my mobile at home, the first two attempts will always be rejected, and I get a message flashing up saying ‘NOT ALLOWED!!’ Not, sorry there’s a network problem, but a more of a frantic, finger-wagging reprimand that makes me feel like I’m at school and I’ve done something wrong. Another great one is, when you’re trying to fast-forward a DVD and you get the angry error message that says ‘This action is FORBIDDEN.’ Or, on a PC when you are brashly accused of breaking the law, ‘You have performed an ILLEGAL OPERATION’.

Who writes these? Have they ever heard of tone of voice? Why not employ a copywriter of some sort? Surely this point in the “user journey,” it’s a good idea for the brand to try and keep the customer on side, rather than intimidate them with guarish technospeak?


Any thoughts on this, or other examples, please feel free to share…






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