Post is also published on Medium, NYC Design publication: link

Control, access and prohibition motives are essential within any organization. Even if it’s a community of software-users, whose actions are controlled and guided by a software provider. It’s important to control and monitor this nicely, without causing irritation or anxiety of the users.

Any checkpoint or prohibition can be presented in such an elegant manner that no one feels humiliated or controlled. Unpleasant or uninteresting things should always be served so that everyone feels accepting them instead of rejecting them.

“You do not have permissions to view this page”

Sounds rude, right? It’s a common error, which is thrown when users are trying to access some roots or URLs that have information not sufficient to the user’s access level. Let’s list emotions which are brought up by this message:

Questioning, push back on restriction, anxiety, helplessness, disappointment…

Users can simply drop the mission because it requires more actions associated with getting proper rights or asking help of the authorized users.

As designers of the applications, we should be maximizing the success of each user within the app. Meaning that our essential goal is to make app usage so smooth that it allows users achieving their goals any time they interact with it.

Thinking of alternatives for “permission denied” spots won’t be seen by users (if they do not come across “permission denied” cases they can’t appreciate efforts around it). It won’t impact the satisfaction by directly increasing it. But this is great preventive measure that avoids an increase of dissatisfaction.

How to handle it?

i. Drive user to a workaround immediately:

If we assume that user will definitely come across with such an error and there’re no prevention mechanisms, we definitely should design and present workarounds right after “permission denied” pops up to users screen.

User tried to achieve something and failed, so give options to him, rather than make him think of alternatives. For example, if user tried to access some document and access has been denied, suggest contacting the administrator via some means right away. Or describe what kind of actions user needs to do in the very next moment to finally achieve the desired.

ii. Create friendly wording and design concept around “error” spot:

Design is powerful, right? You can deliver a message in a friendly and polite tone, or you can signal danger in red alerts and repulsive means.

If user comes across with some danger area, chances he would like to experience this again are pretty low. For brain there’s no much difference if that was some real-life situation or just an error in the software. If it is associated with some negative emotions like fear, anxiety, disappointment, user is likely to reject the whole application next time to not experience those emotions again.

Usage of smart design concepts can help to not drive negativity into user flow.

iii. Check user flow and cut any ones that lead user to the point of seeing a restriction:

Ideally, we want the cat to catch his ball without getting into dead ends. Removing such dead ends and leaving only a successful path is what users would truly appreciate.

Draw a diagram of the user actions and detect in this labyrinth those paths that lead to blind corners and dead ends. Think of the ways of cutting those paths, so that user never gets into position when permission level is not sufficient or access level is denied.

Remove the chances of making user feel uncomfortable, and you will never need to worry about making access-denied errors more friendly.

Instead of a summary…

The devils is in the details. Design definitely should take under its responsibility not only aesthetics of general look and feel, but also aesthetics of control, regulation and prohibition. Catching those tiny fleas that in sum can cause dissatisfaction is something worth considering.


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