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We have a form with a 'Show Map' button.

This 'Show Map' button is displayed based on an action from the user and a subsequent response from a call to a web service.

If the user selects a particular item in a drop down list, then a request is made to a web service - if the web service returns true, show the button, otherwise don't show it.

My Question: Now, if the web service is down, should we inform the user that it is down and therefore we can't show the button?

I would have thought this is a better user experience because:

  • the users will get used to the button being shown for a given set of conditions
  • if the web service is down but all other conditions are the same and we dont tell them that we cant show the button due to the failing web service, then won't they be wondering whats happening?
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Be clear, honest, and consistent with your users.

You're on the right track to be honest with your users.

If you show an error, you have the opportunity to communicate the following:

  • The user will be kept aware of the system status

  • The user didn't do anything wrong; it's the systems fault that the map cannot be shown (users don't often think in terms of web services; they may assume it's your product unless told otherwise)

  • The user can complete their form regardless of the map option not being available

Displaying the unavailable map option button (disabled)

You can reinforce the conditions that lead to the map option being displayed (even if the option is unavailable at the time)

There's some good references for basic usability heuristics.

From the Neilsen Norman Group: 10 Usability Heuristics

The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.

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