Hide your unnecessary details from the user

| 1 Comment

Too often I see user-facing text that includes far more detail than is necessary. My current example is this web app where I can upload files for my expense reports. The help screen tells me:

You can attach the following types of files:
  • Portable Document Format (.pdf)
  • Joint Photographic Experts Group (.jpg or .jpeg)
  • Graphic Interchange Format (.gif)
  • Tagged Image Format (.tif)
  • Windows OS/2 Bitmap Graphics (.bmp)

Why why why do they bother giving those unnecessary explanations of what the file extensions mean? What they really mean is:

You can attach .pdf, .jpg or .jpeg, .gif, .tif and .bmp files.

Has anyone ever said "Hey, Bob, can you send me that Joint Photographic Experts Group file?" No? Then why do you think that people want to read it?

1 Comment

The above example particularly verbose, but OTOH I also hate programs which, for the sake of user friendliness, hides every little details from error messages. Frontpage (or many other Windows apps) and mobile phones come to mind. I remember that I used to curse whenever Frontpage spewed something like "An error has occured, please contact your site administrator." No logs, no error codes, no nothing. What if I *am* the site administrator?

Hiding technicalities are okay. But at least give me an error code so I can consult the manual or google it for more information.

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