Prompting Errors, Warnings etc.

Some good points on System Feedback to user. Found it here. Btw…

Question: Do we follow any such standards for visual representations (icons) for prompts of such nature on devices?


Recently there has been some controversy related to IE8, Critical Windows Updates, and multi-step wizard style interfaces vs. leveraging default settings. But most of these debates have centered on things like text size and interactive flows. I personally believe there is also a visual design component to this issue as well.

Standard Dialog Box Icons

The Windows User Experience Guidelines for Standard Dialog Icon Use

This quote is from Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines > Guidelines > Aesthetics > Standard Icons

Message type vs. severity

Choose standard icons based the message type, not the severity of the underlying issue. The message types are:

* Error. An error or problem that has occurred.
* Warning. A condition that might cause a problem in the future.
* Information. Useful information.

Different operating systems have slightly different guidelines for using the standard dialog box icons, for instance sometimes the error icon is used to indicate an error that is the system’s fault, while the warning icon is used to indicate a significant problem that is (or will be) the user’s fault. Also Vista tends to only use the blue question icon as an entry point to help, with guidelines stating: “Don’t use the question mark icon to ask questions. Again, use the question mark icon only for Help entry points. There is no need to ask questions using the question mark icon anyway—it’s sufficient to present a main instruction as a question.” Contrary to the Windows-specific guidelines, Firefox in some situations uses a question mark for direct questions that have a significant consequence, but do not involve any form of error.

These standard dialog icons also metaphorically associate with physical objects in the real world. For instance an equilateral triangle form is commonly used to represent traffic warnings.



Here is the first specific example that the Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines provides, documenting the proper use of the warning icon. They write “The following is a good example of a critical warning because it meets the previously defined characteristics.” Those characteristics being: data or financial loss, loss of system access or integrity, loss of privacy, wasted time, unexpected consequences, and an action that does not support undo.


Standard Dialog Icons as an Indication of Product Choice

Here is a screen shot of how Internet Explorer 8 (as well as previous versions) prompts the user if it detects that it is no longer the default browser:


By comparison, here is a screen shot of how Firefox 3 prompts the user if it detects it is no longer the default browser:


Internet Explorer is framing the message of not using IE8 as analogous to an action like formatting your hard drive, or (by metaphorical extension) driving your car off of a cliff. If the user doesn’t take the time to read or think about the specific question being presented, the visual language effectively conveys the message: “you broke your computer, click Yes to fix.” As opposed to visually conveying the message “you have a choice to make.” This might seem like a minor point, but I think there’s a pretty big difference between what a dialog box literally says and what users take the time to actually read.

Now to be fair, as quoted above their guidelines are based on message type and not severity. However, considering the literal definition of the icon, deciding to no longer use IE8 as the default browser is classified as “a condition that might cause a problem in the future.” Their guidelines also state: “While severity isn’t a consideration when choosing among the error, warning, and information icons, severity is a factor in determining if a standard icon should be used at all.” So the user deciding to no longer have IE8 as the default browser (based on their guidelines and the inclusion of the icon) apparently warrants displaying a critical warning.


[source: mozilla blogs]

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