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I'm creating a web form and I'd like to know if is bad for UX if, when a submit error occurs, I replace all content (the form inputs) by the error message. The error isn't an error which could be solved by the user (replacing the input for instance) but it's a server error that must be fixed by developers.

For instance, we have the form this way:

enter image description here

and when a login error occurs in the server, all the form is replaced by

enter image description here

  • what can the user actually do in this situation? Are they waiting to resubmit? – Mike M Sep 13 at 13:58
  • Yes. The user submit the form, wait for the response and when it arrives, if an error occurs, I have to display the error message. – Pedro Arantes Sep 13 at 14:44
  • I think @MikeM is asking: What can the user reasonably be expected to do after the error occurs? Should they resubmit the form or do they need to wait until some later time when the devs have fixed whatever the problem is? – sintax Sep 13 at 16:05
  • I see, make sense. @MikeM I'm sorry, English is not my main language and I didn't understand your question. Answering: there is nothing the user can do. – Pedro Arantes Sep 16 at 3:19
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It's okay to hide the fields if they cannot repeat the action. But you have to shift emphasis (and thoughtfully design) the error explanation / recovery.

If there's a system error, and it's not possible for the user to repeat their action, taking away the fields keeps them from fruitlessly attempting a resubmit.

The question is: What can they do at this point?

I don't know your domain or use case, but you need to convey:

  • The user didn't do anything wrong
  • It's our fault, not yours
  • What they can (or can't) do next

From the Nielsen Norman Group, an old, but still useful article:

Error Message Guidelines

Make error messages clearly visible, reduce the work required to fix the problem, and educate users along the way

Explicit indication that something has gone wrong. The very worst error messages are those that don't exist. When users make mistakes and get no feedback, they're completely lost.

Human-readable language, instead of obscure codes or abbreviations such as "an error of type 2 has occurred."

For your case, you'll have to figure out:

  • Can they resubmit the form later? (give them an estimate)
  • Can they contact a service rep about this? (provide info if so)
  • Can they get to a relevant page (provide a link)
  • Are there alternative ways of submitting info (call, email, physical location, etc.)

Put yourself in their position, and work towards surfacing a path to recovery.

  • Thank you @MikeM, I couldn't imagine a better response than yours. – Pedro Arantes Sep 14 at 11:46

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