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The Impact of “Cosmetic Changes” on the Usability of Error Messages

Kandarp Khandwala
Extended Abstracts of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM (2019), LBW0273


Programmatic errors are often difficult to resolve due to poor usability of error messages. Applying theories of visual perception and techniques in visual design, we created three visual variants of a representative error message in a modern UI framework. In an online experiment, we found that the visual variants led to substantial improvements over the original error message in both error comprehension and resolution. Our results demonstrate that seemingly cosmetic changes to the presentation of an error message can have an oversized impact on its usability.