On Receiving Design Critique

Evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way.

A Design Critique Critique ≠ A Personal Criticism

Receiving feedback, receiving it well and being able to act upon this feedback is a difficult skill to master.

No-one likes to be told “That’s wrong” or “I don’t think this works” and getting this type of response to a piece of design work you have done, at any stage of your career, can be a knock to a persons confidence.

The key point I keep in mind myself, and advise people I’ve worked with, is to not take this design critique personally. You are not your designs. Hold your ideas lightly, take on this feedback, both good and bad, and use it as a way to move your design forward.

That single comment on one of your ‘failed’ designs might be the spark, the inspiration, that leads you to the right solution.

Writing Useful Error Messages - Resources and Ideas

Writing a useful error message is tricky. Striking the right balance of presenting useful information to people while explaining what the error was and, more importantly, what they can do about it is not an easy thing to do, especially when looking to automate/template these type of interactions.

Windows 10 Error Message Windows 10 Error Message - Please don’t do this ツ

Try to Avoid Using Error Messages

The ideal goal is to not need to use error messages at all. Look instead to design what Don Norman calls a ‘collaborative’ system, tell the user the requirements before they do the work. If there are special ways you want user to enter content/data into a system tell the user before they enter it, not afterwards.

If You Do need to Display Error Messages

Where Error Messages are used try to ensure they sound like they’ve been written for real people to understand and not using incomprehensible, ‘machine code’ style message.

Think of the error message as a conversation with the person using the system. Make it polite, understandable, friendly & jargon-free. The goal is to write an actionable error message that anyone could understand.

Ensure the error message is visible in regard to message size, colour & location. If the person can’t see the error message they will have trouble acting upon it. It needs to be specific as to what the problem is and help the user recover. Explain what they need to do next and how can they get back to what they were doing.

An Example Error Message

A useful error message template, based off the above guidelines looks like this;

[What has happened in plain, jargon-free language]

[What the user can do to continue with their task]

[Who the user can contact (including named person, email address, phone number, etc. where applicable) for assistance]

Error Message Writing Resources

The Guidelines above are based on a few useful resources I’ve found when researching writing useful error messages.

Don Norman writes about using ‘collaborative’, rather then ‘error’, messages here

Ben Rowe gives 4 useful tips in this UXMas article on error messages

Some great error message writing tips in this article by Thomas Fuchs

Some older, but still relevant, info in this article on error messages from Michael Bolton (not that one, I think ツ)

Steven Hoober talks here on how error messages are an anti-pattern

Again on UX Matters - Caroline Jarrett explains how not to be embarrassed by your error messages

and finally;

NN/Groups Jakob Neilson offers some useful error message writing guidelines

Rethinking How I Use Twitter

Over time I’ve developed a method of using Twitter for two main purposes. One way is for social interactions, asking questions & responding to other people’s. The second way has been as a link bookmarking service.

Twitter Typographic Wallpaper Twitter Typographic Wallpaper via https://flic.kr/p/69cP9q

When I read an interesting link I’ll Tweet it, with some associated hastags, via my personal account. These Tweets are then picked up by an IFTTT recipe which strips out the links & hashtags and adds them to a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is then imported into my personal wiki meaning I have quick access to useful information in my main areas of interest (UX, Typography. Design, etc.).

What this means is I now have a lot of Tweets - my link collection process get mixed up with the more personal, social interactions.

So I’m planning to change the way in which I use Twitter. I’ll now (be trying to) keep it purely for the social, communicative aspects, reaching out for feedback or helping out where I can. The links/bookmarking aspect I’ve been using Twitter for will go via other channels, still allowing me to keep an up to date wiki of useful information but keeping it apart from my other Twitter interactions and hopefully removing some of the noise from my account.

I’ll be interested to see how this works over time but it’s always interesting to change processes and observe how this affects useage & efficiency.

NUX4 – A Conference for Teams

The excellent NUX4 conference takes place shortly in Manchester - http://2015.nuxconf.uk/.

One of the key aspects I try to get across when discussing UX with people is that it’s not just one role for a single (or team) of UX professionals in any organisation. One of the key aims in UX is bringing it in as part of wider business processes. As the Government Digital Services Team often point out, UX is a team sport.

User Research is a Team Sport User Research is a Team Sport via http://www.disambiguity.com/strategy-is-being-on-message/

As part of this, it feels that events like NUX4 really benefit when attended by people who don’t class themselves as UX professionals. People who come from others areas of business who are looking to get an idea of how UX fits into these wider processes. More and more businesses are understanding that UX is not something that can be tacked on to the end of a project, instead it needs to be a foundation, underpinning all aspects of a project.

Along with a great line up featuring speakers from Google, Tobias & Tobias, A List Apart & Rosenfeld Media NUX4 is a welcoming and open conference for anyone interested in how people actually use systems, apps, websites & products.

As a Project Manager, visit NUX4 and find out how UX can fit into Agile & Lean development processes.

As a Business Analyst, come along to NUX4 to see how UX can dig into the user needs of a business.

As a Developer, experience NUX4 and gain a better understanding how UX design thinking can shorten development time and build on consistent, usable patterns.

An open conference suitable for PMs, BAs, Devs, Managers, Analytics Experts & more to offer a better understanding of what UX is and what it can offer any business.

If your role involves working with people in any way, you will benefit from attending, and hopefully enjoying NUX4.


Tickets for NUX4 are available here;


With discounts for both students and groups of more then 5.

I’m looking forward to seeing a range of people, from all areas of all type of businesses at NUX4.

Designing Notification Icons for the User

I’ve recently been doing a lot of design work around notifications. This is an interesting area—trying to get the balance between what the user needs to see and what the system needs to show them. Alongside the standard info, success, warning & error notifications the project required an additional notification style for system messages. These are things like showing the user a message has been sent, or the system is loading information.

For things like info, this icon choice is fairly straightforward. Just doing a search for info icon - https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=info+icon - returns many results for the standard i in a container that is a fairly universal symbol for information.

Tourist Information Kiosk Tourist Information Kiosk

Tourist Information Signpost Tourist Information Signpost

Tourist Information Office Tourist Information Office

The same goes for the icons used for success or error - there’s a fairly well defined set of universal symbols used for these and it makes sense to use these to reduce cognitive load for the user.

But looking at the system notification we realised that no one icon really covered the potential variants, so the decision was made to dynamically add a relevant icon to denote the system process taking place, display a certain icon to denote the system saving an item and another one to denote the system sending a message.

But then I took a step back to consider this more - from the users perspective they see a constantly changing notification, it increases the effort they have to put in to understand what the notification is telling them. We were designing this notification based on what the Designers & Developers thought the user would want to see rather then what the user needed to see. From the users perspective, all they need to know is that the system is performing an action and if that action has succeeded or failed. This was the path we took, a single icon to denote system notifications to the user.

Don’t try to overthink UI, by avoiding dynamic notification icons in this area we made it easier for both the user to comprehend what is happening in the system and reduced development time and potential issues. In many cases, the simplest solution is the best.