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We have two distinct styles for the following:

  • An error message (which is a red/black banner at the top of the page)
  • An upgrade message (which is a light-colored banner prompting the user to upgrade their plan)

We are restricting video uploads to users on a Free plan. When they attempt to upload, we inform them that this is only possible when they upgrade their plan.

In this case, which prompt should we use? An error message prompting them to upgrade, or a basic upgrade message? I was thinking about the latter so it isn't so scary for the user.

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Display the upgrade message as they did not make an error. Allow for a CTA to upgrade.

Spotify does a simple job of this. If I try to download, I get a top level banner, info style, with call to action for Premium:

enter image description here

The animation pushing down the UI, and the color contrast make it easy to notice. It directly references the action I attempted: Download, and ties it to the benefit of going Premium.

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  • Thanks for your reply @Mike M. What do you mean by "they did not make an error"? – Jan May 27 at 17:32
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    meaning that they didn't do anything wrong. They initiated an action (or tried to) on a command button, and were then informed that they need to upgrade. When I try to download a song on Spotify, the button is enabled. Clicking is my natural instinct, and when I get the blue banner, it explains why the operation couldn't be performed, and it explains what I need to do (Get Premium) in order to complete a download. – Mike M May 27 at 17:41
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I think I'd argue I this is basically your error (the royal you).

You have given an option which the user is not able to access unless they pay. How you handle it depends on what feeling you want the user to experience.

Is there a functional error with the site? or what the user has requested? > error state

Is this information which you should have provided earlier, or they haven't seen until now (the need to upgrade)? > information state?

Or is it a dark pattern where you are intentionally displaying carrots / unaccessible options to tempt the user into upgrading and using deliberate messaging (such as errors) to make them feel like they have done something wrong in order to make them rectify the issue by paying?

How do you want them to feel? what is your intention with the messaging?

(Not meaning to be provocative intentionally, but want you to think about it as a factor.)

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