Playstation Portable and the Art of Writing Good Error Messages

I recently upgraded from my well-loved but aging Game Boy Advance to a shiny new Playstation Portable. However, although the hardware itself is impressive, it suffers from some challenging usability issues.

For example, when I tried to set it up to connect to my wi-fi network the unit displayed the error message:
bq. Your WLAN switch is not turned on.
“My WLAN switch? What the hell is that — something to do with my router?” were my initial thoughts.
It was only after I did some searching on the internet that I learned that a WLAN switch is exactly that — a little switch on the side of the PSP that you have to move to the ‘on’ position in order to access a network.
More interestingly, I also discovered that I was by no means alone in having no idea what this cryptic error message was referring to. Many thanks to Dave Taylor for “writing a post on this subject”: with an actual image of what the PSP’s WLAN switch looks like.
Check out the comments to the post to see how frustrating this issue has been to a lot of people.
What I find annoying is that Sony could have so easily prevented this from becoming a problem for people by making their error message more user-friendly. How about:
bq. Your PSP’s WLAN switch is not turned on. (Hint: It’s on the left hand side of your PSP)
It’s not like they had no room to add a few more words. I can’t wait to see what other ‘useful’ error messages I will encounter.
I guess the PSP designers never read Defensive Design for the Web, which has great information on how to write useful error messages and pages.

5 thoughts to “Playstation Portable and the Art of Writing Good Error Messages”

  1. You might want to read the manual that comes with the unit. The unit itself is pretty much straight forward to use, albeit the disorderliness of the menus (unalphabetized) for your PSP settings, that’s my gripe.

  2. i can’t say i had this problem as i don’t have a router and the start of the manuell shows you what everything is, from game boy to psp that’s a huge leap in technology me thinks. Although my friend thought the switch was a memory card lock! 😛

  3. *keyk* — read the manual? Are you kidding?! Obviously, yes, I should have read the manual. But, honestly, who really reads those things anyway? I mean, it’s a hand-held gaming machine — how hard can it be to use?
    *Tom* — I was going to get a DS but they were completely sold out. So I got a PSP instead and boy am I ever glad I did. It is an amazing piece of hardware.
    The graphics and sound are superb and there are a bunch of great games for it (“way more than for the DS”: , apparently). Apart from it being a little on the pricey side, I am in love with it.
    As long as they keep pumping out good games and free demos to download, I’m going to be a very happy owner.

  4. I’m just glad that I bought a PSP too.
    It got stagnant for a while, since titles for it at the time are nil and the UMD video is a flop. But nowadays it has a healthy homebrew community and I could play my own Playstation games on it as well!
    There’s a small risk of screwing up the unit though… from downgrading to flashing a custom firmware, so you need too know the version of unit you have and the proper info.
    It’s my very own porta-game-wayback-machine… SNES, Genesis, Gameboy, PSP, PS. What more can I ask for?
    I myself didn’t read the manual too, but I got the idea to use the PSP with common sense.

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