Error Elimination Testing

I was recently asked to review Parimala Hariprasad’s CAST 2014 talk, and what a great talk it would have been; shame I missed it! The review prompted me to remember a technique that I’ve used in the past which I call Error Elimination Testing. I also thought it may be a good idea to finally write about it!

From past experience, it’s not uncommon for people to test for error messages. They invoke the message to make sure it appears, is readable/understandable, says what it’s suppose to say, etc, etc. But how many people think a little bit further, and test whether it is actually necessary, or think about possible changes to design elements which would mean there was no need for an error message in the first place?

I give you… Error Elimination Testing – Testing in order to eliminate the need for error messages.

One of the most common instances is the sign up/register page…

Meetup Sign Up

Seems simple enough, so let’s invoke an error message…

Meetup Sign Up Error

Fair call. 6 characters will be a bit safer than the 1 that I tried! However, if I’d used my dog’s name, which is 5 characters in length and far more likely than someone trying to enter 1, I would have got the same error.

So how much of a design problem would it be to have the text “Your password needs to be at least 6 characters long” permanently displayed on the page? I’m not a web designer, but I can’t imagine it being a big deal. A small line of text to save the frustration of being presented with an error message, and having to enter another password… works for me.

The above example is a simple one, but what a difference it could make to the overall user experience. When you combine issues such as these in the sign up process with other potential issues across the site, they can add up to a level of *insert negative emotion here* that detracts significantly from the user’s experience.

Once you do this on a few occasions you’ll find yourself thinking about it every time you see an error message; “What could we change so that we don’t need the error here?”

There will be times when you can’t change anything, and that’s cool, but at least you’ve taken your thought process one step further.

9 thoughts on “Error Elimination Testing

  1. Nice idea David, I get really frustrated when each field validates after entering text.

    I guess there’s a trade-off to be had here, right? Slick, simple design vs relevant info displayed up front.

    Yours is a simple example, what about for complex examples, like submitting a form – would you have a line of text outlining the rules for each field?

    Is how many times the customers are going to be filling out the fields relevant?

    I have seen an example where the field validation was updated but the text outlining the rule has not. I never did work out what was required…

    Thanks for sharing another thought provoking post David!


    • Hey dude, great questions as always…

      “Yours is a simple example, what about for complex examples, like submitting a form ā€“ would you have a line of text outlining the rules for each field?”

      You know the answer to that… it depends. šŸ˜‰ Like you’ve alluded to, there needs to be a balance, and user demographics will always need to be taken into consideration.

      “Is how many times the customers are going to be filling out the fields relevant?”

      Of course. A sign up page will generally be a one off so I’d be more inclined to include as much information as possible up front to save that initial frustration (first impressions and all). If it was a regular workflow for a user then learn-ability becomes a factor; however I would still prefer an approach that attempts to reduce user error wherever possible.

      • Good call on the balance & demographics dude – always so many more layers to think about than can (reasonably) be covered in a blog post.

        WRT sign up pages, I’m sure I’ve seen a form which had no field validation tips but had a “help me” button – clicking this button displayed all the tips (CSS hide I think). Can’t remember where I saw it though…

        Would having all the text have an impact on accessibility, I’m thinking screen readers here. I don’t know enough about them.

  2. Pingback: Five Blogs ā€“ 26 August 2014 | 5blogs

  3. @Srini – It would depend greatly on the website and particular page setup for the registration process. I’m not suggesting this as a ‘best practice’ by any means, but just something to be aware of and think about.

    if you have a particular page in mind then let me know.

  4. @Duncs – Good call on the screen reader dude. Most of them would read that text, which would be annoying if you didn’t need to know it.

    User research would always be a requirement in order to evaluate the final answer. šŸ™‚

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