Sad Screenshots

The Tumblr blog, Screenshots of Despair, is funny, poignant, and a little sad. The site's concept is simple. Readers submit images clipped from a website or app, typically images of a user-interface message. Within the context of a program, the messages are meant to be simply functional. But when considered more thoughtfully, they might suggest to the program’s users that they are friendless, aimless, or somehow worthless. Here are some examples:

  • Probably from a site like Facebook after you've signed up...
No Friends.jpg
  • Most likely from a site that measures your social influence...
Popular.jpg
  • Likely from a goal-setting site after logging in for the first time...
Empty Life.jpg
  • From another goal-setting app after you've changed your goals...
Hopes Dreams.jpg

The significant lesson of Screenshots of Despair is that even supposedly functional messages aren’t emotionally neutral. After all, no one wants to be told their hopes and dreams are in the trash, and any program that brings its users existential emptiness, even if done unintentionally or under the radar, might lose them as customers.

When a business crafts the messaging across its brand, it needs to carefully consider wording, tone, and possible alternative meanings. It needs to envision how different subsets of its audience might react. Good messaging will leave people with a positive impression and encourage them to follow through on calls to action. On the other hand, poorly considered communications can drive people away by sowing confusion, annoyance and, yes, even despair.