Human Errors and Their Solutions in Product Design

As a designer of a leading product design company, we aim to develop product design strategies that create a delightful user experience. When we start working on a design project we aim to help our intended users by guiding them through areas where they are most susceptible to make mistakes. However, as per Murphy’s law“whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Most of the times, these mistakes are a result of poorly designed interfaces. Therefore, it is important to design a system that follows carefully crafted product design strategies which remove all the possibilities of errors. Only when there is no option left and the error is unavoidable, the error messages should be shown to the users. I am not saying that errors are entirely bad; infact they provide us the opportunities to learn and make better products if handled well.

Let’s have a look at the types of errors, what are the causes and the design strategies to counter them.

Two Types of errors

1. Slip
clicking the wrong button

An error of execution where we try to do the right thing but don’t do it correctly.

“Slips” are the result when the task performed was not required and we did it unconsciously. Perhaps driven by our behavior, past habits or subconscious mind.

Real life example of slip could be, we start moving to a most visited destination while driving instead of going somewhere else we thought of going.

Best practices to help people to prevent and recover “slip errors” 

Make words, terms, images, iconography, and concepts – comprehensible, meaningful and distinct.

This will make your interface more intuitive. Always include iconography which is commonly used. For instance, for frequently used actions like ‘delete’, ‘share’, ‘copy’, use icons which are already in practice and are well known to the user. Do not try to introduce new colors or icons, even if it’s a mind-blowing design.

Ensure that mouse/tapping targets are large enough and well separated

Provide ample separation between CTA buttons and keep the size of the buttons appropriate so as to prevent any accidental clicking while performing any action on them.

Don’t ask for unnecessary inputs

Avoid asking for data which is not required. For example- there is no point in asking for a user’s mobile number unless you want to call them for a shipping/service related query. Similarly, asking for user’s credit card details before they opt to buy from you, is absolutely unnecessary.

Provide clear and constructive error messages where errors are unavoidable

One of the most common product design mistakes that we do is leave users without any help and clear message about “what just happened”. We all have faced that ‘Oh! Snap’ moment but what made it acceptable was a clear and concise error message. So make sure you give users a valid error message.

Provide Undo wherever appropriate (forgiveness)

Any important action which does not have a confirmation message should be provided with an option to undo

Provide Confirmation for irreversible(important) actions

Important action items like ‘confirm order’, ‘delete record’ should always come with a confirmation pop up so that user is informed in advance about the irreversible change which is about to happen.

2. Mistake

mistake product design error

An error of intention where we are not sure what we should be doing or we have a wrong idea about our action. Mistakes happen when we develop a mental model of the user interface which isn’t correct and forms a goal that doesn’t suit the situation well. Some of the examples are-

  • Selecting the option to block search engines from crawling the site is a mistake. Forgetting to remove the temporary robots.txt file we set up to block search engines while your site was under development is a slip.
  • In a payment system, not sending an error message when the transaction is not accepted. Leading user to falsely believe an order is placed even though no money is deducted from the bank account.
  • While asking a user to submit a long form not putting the required symbol *. Leading a user to skip required information and hence leading to submission failure.
  • Asking users to rate a question on a scale of 1-3 whereas ideally, the scale should 1-10. Leading to wrong interpretation and hence faulty insights.

Some best practices to help users avoid “Mistakes Errors”

It is very likely that users will commit mistakes when using any digital product but we can possibly reduce the errors by designing the products with user experience in mind by following ways:

  • Use of common design patterns to help users quickly understand how to achieve their goal.
  • Giving prompt messages to help users double check their work, especially before deleting.
  • Many choices generally lead to cognitive load and confusion. Try to use progressive disclosure to provide just-the-required information and give links to explore, if further information is required.

Strategies that work well for both error types(Slips and Mistakes)

Reduce cognitive load

The total amount of memory our brain can process at a time is referred to as the cognitive load. Cognitive overload happens when we get more amount of information to process than our mind can handle.

When users are required to store lots of information into their mind while performing a task it is very likely that they may fall victim to slips. In order to avoid this product design mistake, we should remove conditions that require users to keep information in their own memory while they move from one step to another in complex, multi-step procedures. Users are not always fully focused or they might be doing multitasking.

Take final confirmation before deleting

While offering a feature to delete something, we as designers must consider the fact that the item going to be deleted must have been consumed the ample amount of time and effort to create it. We must show a confirmation dialogue box just before the delete action is performed so that user makes sure and double check that he/she really meant to delete something that took time and effort to create it. Careful usage of confirmation dialogue boxes is advisable. If we show confirmation dialogue boxes after every decision, it may put adverse effect i.e. people may start to ignore them.

Offer “Undo”

Providing a safety net for the users who committed a slip or mistake is quite valuable. We all must have experienced that horrifying moment when we did something wrong unintentionally and had no option except to regret. Offering a feature to undo the most recent action can help users to feel more secure and confident to play around with various features available since they are aware that a mistake is low cost and can be easily fixed.

As designers, at Quovantis we tend to design interfaces which are not only visually delightful but also serve the purpose of the application with best possible usability to end-user which covers all the worst case scenarios rather than happy scenarios only. Human errors as they occur are a part of design problems we work upon. Here we discussed few of the generic Types of errors we face and how we tend to resolve the same.

I hope this helps you in creating better product designs. Thank you for reading.

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