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We see it everywhere: database queries to shopping carts, the message "Operation X successfully completed" is ubiquitous. But is the word "successfully" really necessary?

Is there a way to unsuccessfully complete a credit card transaction?

Your transaction of US$ 1,346,353.82 was unsuccessfully completed. Your account was debited but vendor did not get the money. Now that money is trapped inside a black hole.

How do you think the word "successfully" affects the user experience? Is it something that should go away, or is it all right to actually have the word in messages?

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It seems like there are two different types of possibilities here: A completed/incomplete operation and a successful/unsuccessful outcome for the user. I guess if it is important enough to make the distinction then you will need to so as to avoid confusion. –  Michael Lai Jul 18 at 0:38
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I usually just pop up a dialog that says "Success!" - the fewer words the better. The icon in the dialog has a bigger effect than the text, anyways, I think. –  Jason C Jul 18 at 4:47
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Of course, there's always "Error: The operation completed successfully." shake fist –  Jason C Jul 18 at 4:54
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@ThorstenDittmar It gets returned if the recipient doesn't create a PayPal account within 30 days. –  Michael Hampton Jul 19 at 14:18

13 Answers 13

Answer "No". "Successfully" can be removed:

Joel Spolsky covered this issue very well here:

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/uibook/chapters/fog0000000062.html

The basic rule of thumb is that:

"In fact, users don't read anything.

This may sound a little harsh, but you'll see, when you do usability tests, that there are quite a few users who simply do not read words that you put on the screen. If you pop up an error box of any sort, they simply will not read it. This may be disconcerting to you as a programmer, because you imagine yourself as conducting a dialog with the user. Hey, user! You can't open that file, we don't support that file format! Still, experience shows that the more words you put on that dialog box, the fewer people will actually read it."

It's an extension of the "Don't make me think" principle - or in this case "Don't make me read" because users avoid expending mental energy.

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I can imagine tha you may get users to read by providing good button labels. If the button label is always "OK" then yes, noone will read anything and just click away. If your button labels provide the action or in Y/N dialogs something like "Yes, do it anyway" you probably have a better chance of people reading the text above (user thinks: "anyway? wait... do what... why anyway... what's in the whole dialog text...") –  Alexej Froehlich Jul 17 at 9:47
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My friend was trying to log on to his router, and after about 10+ attempts he called my over to help him saying "It keeps just giving me an error". If fact what was popping up was a message box with a message about something generic (not an error), and rather than reading it and clicking "Yes, continue", he was just straight away clicking the X icon to close the box. That's when it was clear to me that people generally don't read messages, even when it's being repeated to them. –  Tom Hart Jul 17 at 11:43
    
I think this possibly matters how the information is being presented, if it is a popup yes, the user will always skip it, however if it is a log or report the user is likely being more careful, plus it is not disrupting their work-flow, I read this argument as "don't show popups ever" as opposed to "don't show popups with long messages" –  Vality Jul 17 at 13:11
    
@TomHart From your anecdote I also reason that Y/N dialogs actually should not have X icons :-D (or probably even all dialogs should not have X icons) –  Alexej Froehlich Jul 17 at 14:34
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TL;DR: Your users will always look for the TL;DR (if even that). –  called2voyage Jul 17 at 14:58

There is another issue with the word "successful" that I experienced in our SaaS. We provide a function in our application, where you can send stuff via email. However, the only thing we do is to send the email. The message used to be "Email successfully sent." User feedback then made us realize that they got the message more or less wrong as they believed the email has been also successfully delivered! So I changed the text to "Email sent." They still sometimes fail to deliver (mailer daemon etc.) and users still have this problem. However, they do not complain any more about being fooled by a "wrong" system feedback.

And for the case as a whole: This "successful" thing reminds me very much of Coopers "Save File" example. Programmers (mostly unintentionally) reveals their cognitive model of the code/database/machine in those messages but you can not expect from a user to have the same knowledge about it. The user expects the machine to work properly. To get in on a high UX level I say: Do not let the machine have moments of success, have the users have them! (== get rid of all "successes" in you system feedbacks if they refer to the machine)

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So there is a way to unsuccessfully complete an operation after all :) –  Krumia Jul 17 at 9:26

I'm going to disagree with the others and say that sometimes the word successfully is meaningful.

I agree that in many cases it is redundant and in those cases is not needed, however there are cases where it is useful.

Mostly this applies in partial success cases or cases where you may expect an error.

For example if you are validating a hard disk, then the validation has "completed" when it's finished scanning the disk. It's "successfully completed" when it's finished scanning the disk but found no errors.

Similarly if you have a bulk process (sending 1000 emails) might "successfully complete" if all 1000 were sent, but "complete with errors" if it has tried to send all 1000 but some have failed.

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I disagree on both examples. The scan of the hard disk has completed successfully just means that the scan is done, go read the report. Same for the email example or when I scan my HD for malware. I want to be notified when its done and then I want to see the report. If it would report "Completed without errors" then I would say its clear. –  Hugo Delsing Jul 17 at 14:04
    
@HugoDelsing So you don't want to know immediately that there were no errors, you want to have to go click through to a report to see that? –  Tim B Jul 17 at 14:18
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@TimB I think it's more of a desire to be understandable. "Completed with [error count] Errors" is much clearer than the somewhat cryptic use of "successfully". –  Daniel Cook Jul 17 at 14:24
    
I would say that "successful" means "ran so as to meet the 'expected' completion criteria, without any 'unexpected' errors", especially if it's possible for a request to indicate what errors are expected. For example, a request to copy a directory may specify "I either want a complete copy or nothing", or "I want a copy of everything that can be read". In the former case, the operation would complete successfully if all files were copied, and otherwise fail; in the latter case, it would complete if all files were copied, complete with errors if all readable files were copied... –  supercat Jul 17 at 16:13
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@HugoDelsing you should include a link to this question in your UI to make sure the users understand this. –  AAA Jul 18 at 14:40

How do you think the word "successfully" affects the user experience? Is it something that should go away or is it all right to actually have the word in messages?

Ambiguity

"Operation X completed" can be ambiguous, for example: Microsoft SQL Server jobs produce messages like this when a job fails. Since the message doesn't always imply a successful outcome in one or more applications means I can't entirely trust that message in other applications.

Uncertainty

Users that haven't encountered such a completed=failed scenario may not feel the message is ambiguous and therefore do equate 'completed' with success, but users that have experienced it may associate it with uncertainty.

Scannability

To avoid the possibility of uncertainty I opt for the explicitly positive and inherently 'scannable' "Success - Your changes were saved" (as well as a mild green background hue to the message where applicable). This allows the majority "don't make me think" / TL;DR users to scan one word, or even just to notice the colour if they are able to, and then to walk away from the rest of the message knowing that what they did definitely worked. "Operation X completed" or "Operation X successfully completed" are both less 'scannable' for a positive outcome, ergo, require more thought.

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Thanks for showing how this question cannot be answered with just a yes or a no. –  Mishax Jul 20 at 3:52

"I can imagine tha you may get users to read by providing good button labels. If the button label is always "OK" then yes, noone will read anything and just click away. If your button labels provide the action or in Y/N dialogs something like "Yes, do it anyway" you probably have a better chance of people reading the text above (user thinks: "anyway? wait... do what... why anyway... what's in the whole dialog text...")"

That's right! In a relaxed situation a user will never read those pop up windows. But if he/she sees something alarming - then they concentrate their attention on dialogue box. In big custom software development company they have QA depts to test not only the performance of a program but user behaviour, as well.

Edit

Forgot to say - I wouldn't write "successful", it's irritating.

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In talking to an end user, I don't see any action being unsuccesful 'and' completed. Not with those words anyway.

But I do want to point out that it 'is' logical in certain cases. When doing asynchronous calls for example in programming there is a clear difference between success, error and complete. A call will always be completed, albeit succesfull or erroneous.

I can't immediately think of an example where this might apply in talking to end users. Neither would I use a word like 'complete' with a positive undertone to give negative feedback. 'Your submission is unsuccesfully completed' gives negative feedback, but Many people will never see the 'un' before 'success'...

I believe PhilipW's answer reflects this, if i read it correctly. As a user myself, I tend to skip all the text and just check for any word saying 'complete - success - ...' and would probably click OK whenever the text contains completed in any point.

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To add on to Phillips answer, the only time that a user needs to read information within a verification system would be when something atypical has occurred.

So for example in a successfully completed action, the only indicator a user needs is to know everything has gone as expected. Even something as simple as the text "Complete" or "Thanks" with either a green checkbox, or in an entirely green box would be enough to let the user know all is well (though I think complete is perhaps too ambiguous and that adding some indicator of it being a transaction would be helpful).

The only time a user will need additional information here is when something atypical occurs, like if their credit card is denied, or the transaction fails because of a verification, address or a server error. In these cases I would want as a user some description as to why there was a hiccup and see if it was a dumb mistake on my part that could be corrected.

Overall it's a form of progressive disclosure where you need to tell the user what they need to know, only when they need it. Because of that I would agree that "Successfully" in a successful action is pretty redundant.

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My opinion on your specific phrase:

"Operation successfully completed" is that the successfully word is not needed because the completed already has intrinsically on it the meaning of having success.

If your phrase was

"Operation successfully made"

or

"Operation successfully done"

I would not remove the successfully word.

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An operation can perfectly well complete with errors... For example when I am installing updates to a program, I often see "completed with errors" or "completed successfully" if some or all of them (respectively) applied. You could however argue that successfully is the default and should be assumed unless a justification is added. –  Vality Jul 17 at 13:07
    
And I also can argue that the "completed" should not be used when there are errors. I would just use "Operation done with errors", or present a list began by "The following errors have occurred", or some similar message. –  sergiol Jul 17 at 16:30
    
I was going to add an answer saying "Operation successful" is also a good alternative, but I upvoted this instead because it's close enough. –  Danny Beckett Jul 18 at 21:58

I am writing this as an answer, because otherwise my question would be opinion based.

I think that developers write such error messages because they know that a particular operation can fail in a million ways. Most of the time, the code developer writes has hundreds of conditions that can make the operation fail. It is a moment of success for the developers to finally write that "operation successfully completed" message.

If a user is performing a simple task as saving a post as a draft, he should get the messages:

  • If it fails: "Sorry, could not save your draft" (and say why: e.g. network outage, required fields missing)
  • If it succeeds: "Your draft was saved"
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Funny word, successful; I used to do a lot of Big Testing. I started every presentation with the words "all serious software has bugs. Our job is to find them. If our test was successful, it means we found bugs." I never gave way to the temptation to say "useful" or "productive" or whatever.

Managers tend to think a successful test found no errors. Users think a successful operation ran without any errors.

If I am a bank machine and I discover a problem and swallow the customer's card, then I am successful, right?

Maybe you should say "completed without errors" if that's what you want to put across.

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Oh, you're missing out on something essential here: Emotional design

Strictly speaking, the word can be omitted.

It really doesn't add any useful information to the context - but it does add a voice. I think the developer wanted to sound friendly and reassuring when he wrote that message. Remove all doubt and not sound like a dead message from a cold and purely functional computer solution.

For years, the ideal has been to keep the message short and simple. And indeed, having a precise and unambiguous test is important, but it does affect the voice and tone of the message.

MailChimp is a great example of successful "tone and voice".
They have carefully considered various user scenarios and created a message based on the user's feelings in these situations.

Eg.

enter image description here
enter image description here
enter image description here

Source (and more examples): http://voiceandtone.com/


So. Bottom line...
The word itself might not add anything useful to the message, but it definitely helps building a voice&tone.

When you are discussing whether or not it should be included, it really depends on where in the UX-hierarcy the discussion is being held. If we're discussing pure functionality, then sure: remove the word. If we move up a few levels and discuss "pleasurability", then it might have a function and it might be superficial.

enter image description here
Source: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/07/18/the-personality-layer/

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There's one problem in emotional design. For first few days it feels good. But repeatedly seeing the message "You totally deserve a raise!" will slowly convince the user that he's dealing with yet another dumb machine, which parrots the same thing. Moreover, "emotional" messages are annoying in the long run than a traditional application. Traditional application will pop the minimal error message and gets out of the way. And with time, you get used to accept the application as a part of the environment. Whereas the "emotional" messages are on-your-face and annoying as hell. Clippy, anyone? –  Krumia Jul 23 at 10:27
    
Oh yes. I totally agree! It's hard to get it right, and wrong implementation will backfire on you. However, the UX-world has moved forward over the last 10-20 years. While we previously focused on the basics of "UI", we have recently put more focus on the X in UX as well. Designing a good experience is difficult, but it is part of the job. Sometimes critical, sometimes nearly irrelevant. Don't take this answer as an advocate of "emotional design". The point was to balance all the NO's by pointing out that the language you choose will affect how the user feels about your software. –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Jul 23 at 10:47
    
I do agree with you, was just pointing out a single drawback I saw. Anyway the large number of NO's are here because my question is kind of a loaded question. –  Krumia Jul 23 at 10:54
    
Hehe. But it is a good question. And all the no's do have a point. If I had to choose between "KISS" and "Emotional design", the answer would be "Keep it simple". –  Jørn E. Angeltveit Jul 23 at 11:10

You asked, is successfully necessary in "Operation X successfully completed"? I think that your question is loaded. What you should really be asking is whether the status message is optimally worded.

Given that "successfully" and "completed" are somewhat redundant, I would say that completed is the word that should be removed. "Operation X succeeded" is equally informative as the original, while still explicitly conveying the fact that no error occurred.

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How about phrases like "You have successfully checked out your items" (online shopping cart). At the first glance, the word is needed here. But my argument is, it implies that the checkout process can fail. The programmer knows this and unintentionally adds the word success. But the message should have been simply "Checkout complete". User does not have to know that database call can fail, server can overload, or a multitude of things can happen during the checkout process, making it unsuccessful. –  Krumia Jul 18 at 4:34
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PS: Your username is redundant :P –  Krumia Jul 18 at 4:35
    
"User does not have to know that database call can fail, server can overload..." <-- And to supplement your comment @Krumia: While we're talking about system issues, we actually say to the user that she successfully checked out (she must be thinking we expect her to be retarded and not always able to checkout) -- So yes, "Checkout complete" is a much much much much better way to go. As I already stated, get rid of all "successes" if they do not refer to the user. –  Alexej Froehlich Jul 18 at 7:57

You trust you work, data and time to application. You communicate with application through interface. You often don't know what magic algorithms are working inside since you push the button to start operation. That's why word successfully to make sure user that everything OK continue you work.

And about unsuccessful complete of operation. There is no completeness with unsuccessfulness. Try to rephrase it.

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Imho bad user experiences in the past are what actually lead to a user mindset of "That's why word successfully to make sure user that everything OK continue you work." It's like with "Save" -- Why the hell does it not save automatically ? Now everyone is unsure when there is no "Save" button present. Not because they want the save button, but because they learned earlier that not saving is bad. We (UX people) have a hard stand right now to finally getting rid of it. So having a mindest of "hopefully, everything will be OK" won't disappear if we stick to "Save" and "successful" etc. –  Alexej Froehlich Jul 17 at 15:43
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@AlexejFroehlich: Exactly. As a OneNote user, I hit Ctrl+S (obviously unnecessarily) every 2 minutes. :) –  Krumia Jul 17 at 23:45
    
@Krumia: Experience the same thing with Google Drive !! And I know absolutely that they save every second. But it's so damn deep inside my brain... Thx pre-UX world :-\ –  Alexej Froehlich Jul 18 at 7:59

protected by Ben Brocka Jul 18 at 14:18

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