Innovative Learning

Bad Error Messages

What is a "bad error message?" Simply put, a bad error message is a dialog box or error that doesn't make sense to anyone but the person who programmed it in the first place. We've all seen them, usually in very frustrating moments when our computer or website is not working properly.

According to Jakob Nielsen good error messages should:

The following are examples of bad error messages to look and laugh at. The more ridiculous they seem to us, the less likely we will be us actually use them!

blackboard error message

"Valid authentication credentials were not provided"
Hmm... I wonder if that means my password is wrong?


dialog box

Um... is this a question?
(this one was actually on an instructional design site trying to sell programming software)


macintosh error message

As good as Apple is about user interfaces, I've always wanted to ask someone on the original Mac OS team why they chose a picture of a bomb to put on their error message. Not the most friendly thing to see, especially after having just lost 2 hours of work because you hadn't been saving every 5 minutes!


What is a "value state" I wonder? Maybe it's near Kansas.


That's nice... can you show me the page now please?


Oh, I see - Amtrak thinks I care enough about their bad programming to not use the "back" button on my browser


Do you have a good (bad) error message? Send it to us by e-mailing info[at]


Want to see more bad examples? The Isys Information Architects have a bunch of great windows dialog boxes and unintelligible error messages on their site.

[add this example IE Only? Really Blockbuster? ]


Usability Police