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No Joking Around

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this is a hard one to illustrate - not sure what to supply for a sensitizing example. something deadly serious?... maybe better to treat as a principle but not as a pattern?

It’s often been said that sarcasm and irony don’t translate well into email (or ASCII communication in general). Hence the proliferation of smilies and other emoticons to soften the impact of stark words or cue the reader that the writer may have been kidding around and not intending to give offense.

By the same token, it’s nearly impossible to tell jokes in user interface copy. A sense of humor is a unique thing in each person. What strikes one as funny might strike another as vulgar, inappropriate, boring, or tedious and if the site has an international audience, differences in cultures only exacerbate the potential problems.

Resist the urge to tell jokes or to be facetious in your interface copy.



People appreciate humor and ice-breaking witticisms but unserious text in an interface is as likely to confuse people as amuse them.


Apply this pattern when tempted to put jokes in your interface.


Strike out any out-and-out jokes. This is not say that you can’t be witty or make sly allusions to shared cultural references. But very few people can tell a joke well, especially to an invisible audience.

Special Cases

A niche site catering to a community with a well worn stock of traditional witticisms can probably offer jokes in that same vein safely without risking alienating or confusing potential site members.


Because humor strikes so many people in different ways and because it’s nearly impossible to anticipate exactly who will end up reading interface copy, it’s best to eliminate outright jokes to avoid giving offense or creating unnecessary fiction.

Let your users tell each other jokes.