Obnoxiously Vague Error Messages - A Fine Way To Piss Off a Person

Published on 22 May 2022

Well-designed error messages are notoriously rare in many of the applications I use on the various platforms I frequent. My banking app was no different and I ended up giving up on the entire process.

I am guilty of this crime against humanity, and writing about it forces me to acknowledge it and start paying more attention to UX.

I tried to transfer a monetary birthday gift to a family member who lives in a different country via Moneygram on my banking app and according to their marketing page on the website, the service they offer are (in their own words copied from their poorly designed web page)

"When family commitments or spoiling loved ones goes beyond borders, let us help you transact in a quick and simple way."

bullshit coming out of your mouth gif

Perhaps other people found it easy to use, but boy did I have problems...

(By the way. some of the fonts on that web page is far too small at 13px. I don't want to share the site, because of personal privacy reasons.)

Firstly, their tutorials are outdated. I tried following one about sending money globally for the web app, but couldn't find the place where I was supposed to do the specific type of transaction I wanted to do, so I moved over to my phone and tried the app. It kept asking me for details like IBAN numbers and such, but on the marketing page I read a statement that the recipient doesn't need a bank account. Confusion set in and I became rather flustered, feeling a hint of anger grow inside me.

confused toddler

After searching for hours for the correct place to use this Moneygram thing, I found it my randomly tapping on tiles in my banking app. It was under a tile called Remittances with a paper plane icon, of all things. English is not my home language, although I have grown up in both English and Afrikaans households. "Remittance" is not a word I use regularly in casual conversation nor in a professional setting so I couldn't recall what it meant.

In a country of about 60 million people and 11 official languages and English is one of the lesser-spoken home languages, you could do better to revert to more informal, commonly used words. The majority of the South African population's home languages are sub-Saharan African languages, which makes some words tough to translate accurately to English. Or, perhaps I am just another illiterate inhabitant of Africa and I need to read more books.

Secondly, the icons have ambiguous meaning. For the Remittances tile the designer decided to use a paper plane icon, or a send icon that is angled at 45°. Send what? A message? I've seen this type of icon used with actions like sending a text-based message, such as emails and instant messages, but for sending money, it doesn't make sense.

It's a good thing all their icons have text labels, otherwise I would have been lost. The entire app's icons seem thoughtlessly designed; some are even slightly modified copies of others. For example, the Product Shop icon is a shopping cart icon and right after it an icon of a shopping basket with a Buy text label. These two icons are often used interchangeably and imply the same action, a metaphor for doing shopping. What is the difference between the Product Shop and Buy?

Thirdly, and the reason why I am writing this article, is the fact that the error page I finally landed on after pressing the correct sequence of buttons didn't help me solve my problem.

a screenshot of an app with a vague error message

Okay, technical difficulties might not be a problem on the client side, so I'm probably not doing anything wrong and just need to wait. An hour later, still the same error. I really hate phone calls, but I decide to write the number down (there's no option to hold and copy it, nor tap on it to open my Phone app) and try the Secure Chat feature located on the home page. The consultant informs me there are no logs of technical difficulties on their side, so I decide to restart my phone. Perhaps it's a caching issue.

It wasn't a caching issue. After another hour of waiting, I dialled the phone number and was prompted to press a bunch of single digits to finally be told by a pre-recorded voice that the call centre is closed for the day (this is just after 2pm on a Saturday) and I would have to call back during business hours. At this stage, I am so exasperated, I can't focus.

I ran into a complete dead end and gave up, feeling utterly defeated. I even tried a different network to see if it has something to do with that. The website's marketing page lied to me, the error message lied to me, the Secure Chat consultant lied to me, the institution I pay to keep my finances safe and accessible made it so difficult for me to get a basic thing done.

The next day everything worked fine, and I am nothing wiser. It was a glitch in the system and I do not know how to handle it if it should occur again.

This is a fine example of how not to design a user experience. This is the kind of shit that could cost you paying customers. UX is important, don't neglect it.