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Patrick Cole
Patrick Cole

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When Things Break, Use Appropriate Messages To Users

Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash

A Quick Story

If you have been following US politics this year, you are well-aware of the upcoming midterm elections on November 6. Anyone whom has been concerned with participating will surely verify their registration status. However, what happens if they go to verify and the system returns with "Record not Found" as the response?

That is what happened to me today as I checked my registration. Despite the fact that I had recently verified mine a few days ago, it came back with "Record not Found" in the system. I found myself not only confused, but somewhat angry that maybe I was purged from the system.

After contacting the appropriate office, they responded with a "We're having issues with the system" response. Okay, that made sense as today was the deadline for registration. However why didn't the system respond with that same message that was told over the phone?

The Takeaway

Always make your public error responses user-friendly.

Had the system been setup to respond with a status of "The system is experiencing issues right now", it would have been less alarming than a record is not found message. Users were counting on the system to find and verify their records and to show this message only frustrated users and possibly outraged a few others as well.

It's easy to sit back and scrutinize being on the outside of the system, having never seen the code, but this is one of those "write good code" habits that need to be used.

Perhaps the developer simply did not have the luxury of making their error catches granular and decided to use a catch all "Record not Found" message for all database-related issues. However, if true, that approach did not help here as there is a very big difference between "Record not Found" and "System is experiencing issues" responses to the public.

Take some time and think about the context of public error responses and what they mean to users in public. Incorrect assumptions and interpretations can greatly impact user satisfaction and product quality.


Fortunately, the system came back up and no other issues were reported to my knowledge. I was able to verify my registration and all was correctly stated.

Thanks for reading my first post on I felt compelled to share my experience today with other developers and perhaps this can be a reminder of why making these kind of decisions, even if they seem small, can be quite large if not properly thought out.

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