Why your error messages should make people smile

Have you ever smiled while reading an error message?

A few years ago, I saw an interview with Kinneret Yifrah (founder of Nemala Microcopy Studio) discussing the art, science, and power of "microcopy" in physical and digital products.

It blew my mind.

The next day I ordered a copy of her book and became a fan/student of microcopy myself.

So whenever I see a piece of microcopy that stands out, I take note and share it. And this week I ran into two examples:

  • While connecting a 3rd party app to Discord, I saw that scary permissions prompt (to allow this app to see and do all these things in my Discord account). I noticed the last item in the list of permissions had an "X" next to it (instead of a green check like the others) and next to it read: "bake a cake".

Thanks, Discord. Good to know... 😆

  • While updating our trigger conditions in Userflow, we noticed that instead of saying "when always true..." the menu listed this option as: "when water is wet..." 🙄

These are silly examples, but the serious question is - why would these companies spend time and energy adding spice to these boring, vanilla texts??

I don't know for sure, but I have 3 suggestions.

Suggestion #1

It gets users to read the rest of the text in the message.

No one reads those permission prompts. But if I see something funny, I'm more likely to read the rest of the message looking for more fun stuff...

Suggestion #2

It makes the brand more relatable in general.

Like people, companies develop 'personalities' of their own. Successful companies look for ways to project a relatable, likable vibe to their users. This can help boost adoption.

Suggestion #3

It encourages users to keep using the product.

Most people do what is comfortable for them. By cracking a joke and turning 'boring' stuff into 'fun', products become comfortable for users, driving engagement & retention.