That’s OK, then

A Phone Number field with an explanation that "Our shipping providers require a contact phone number"


This form acknowledges that the customer may be reluctant to provide a phone number, and provides an explanation for the requirement.

An assurance that it wouldn’t be used for other purposes might be good, but then the message starts to get rather long. And perhaps it’s adequately implied.

One could argue that having the information displayed by default, instead of requiring a specific action on the part of the customer, would be better.

(Good album, by the way.)

Optional ambiguity

A phone number field with the message, in parentheses: "Optional for US"

Source: Leap Motion

If the phone number is “optional for US”, is it mandatory for Australia?

I suspect that Leap Motion in fact only want US numbers. So the phone number is even more optional (is that possible?) for non-US customers. But perhaps the mean that if you are outside the US, the phone number is mandatory.

It’s easy to be unintentionally ambiguous.

Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

A uselessly generic answer to a specific question

The original “answer” was useless and worse

Source: NAB (

If you can’t answer a question, “I don’t know” is a much better response than generic marketing fluff.

I took the first screen shot a few years ago. The improvement in the current version is obvious:

Some sensible suggestions that actually match the question asked

Improved design increases relevance

Now the answers match, to a reasonable extent, the question I asked.

And if the system really doesn’t understand the query (like: “What is the unit of power?”), it has the grace to admit it. “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your last question” is an honest approach, and it’s OK to follow that with some marketing copy.

A message beginning "Im sorry, I didn't understand your last question."

“I didn’t understand” is an honest response

It’s also interesting to note that the picture of the human in the original has been replaced with a more clearly artificial, cartoon-like figure, and that the ambiguous title “Online Assistant” has been replaced with “Virtual Assistant”.


A message requiring users to click a link to find phone number and contact hours in order to cancel the service

Source: Constant Contact

The desire to keep one’s customers is understandable, but kidnapping them is unacceptable.

This sort of message – forcing customers to make a phone call to cancel an account – is particularly hostile to customers in incompatible timezones. Making it difficult to terminate a relationship may be perceived as manipulative and disrespectful.


Umm… What?

Error message stating: "An AutoCorrect entry for sharepoint already exists. Do you want to redefine it?"

Source: Microsoft Word

Well, I don’t really know.

Do I want to “redefine” it? And what, precisely, is “it”? And what will happen if I “redefine it”?

This is a classic example of a mistaken assumption that there is a shared language and understanding between the writer of the message and the reader.

A good challenge is to write a clearer message that can be understood without knowing what an “AutoCorrect entry” is. An even better challenge is to figure out a way of eliminating the message entirely.