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How Do You Get Users To Read Error Messages? 951

A BOFH writes "The longer I do desktop support, the more it becomes obvious that my users don't read anything that appears on their screen. Instead, they memorize a series of buttons to press to get whatever result they want and if anything unexpected happens, they're completely lost. Error logs help a lot, but they have their limits. I've been toying with a few ideas, but I don't know if any of them will work and I was hoping my fellow Slashdotters could point me in the right direction. For example, I was thinking about creating icons or logos to identify specific errors. They might not remember that an error is about 'uninitialized data' but they might be more able to remember that they got the 'puppy error' if I showed a puppy picture next to the error message. Or for times when finding images is too time consuming, you could create simple logos from letters, numbers, symbols, colors, or shapes, so you could have the 'red 5' error or 'blue square' error (or any combination of those elements). I've even wondered if it would be possible to expand that to cover the other senses, for example, playing a unique sound with the error. Unfortunately, haptic and olfactory feedback aren't readily available. I like to think that my users would remember the error that caused them to get a swift kick in the balls. And if they forgot it anyhow, I could always help them reproduce it. Does anyone else have experience with ideas like these? Did it work?"

"I've seen the forgeries I've sent out." -- John F. Haugh II (jfh@rpp386.Dallas.TX.US), about forging net news articles