Air New Zealand struck gold this week with its new in-flight safety video hosted by fitness guru Richard Simmons. Aside from being hysterical, I like the video because it shows that you can add personality to anything. Airline safety videos no longer need to be serious and boring. We’ve memorized them. Make them fun and we might actually pay attention.

Smart web designers use the same insight, adding touches of personality wherever possible. Below are a few good examples of sites that add personality in unexpected places:

Twitter’s “Fail Whale”
For as beloved a service as it is, Twitter sure does crash a lot! The service is not nearly unreliable as it used to be, but the “Fail Whale” still pops up from time to time.

Twitter's Fail Whale

The dreaded (but fun) Twitter Fail Whale

It’s unbelievably frustrating to get an error message, but when handled well, the error message can actually help users connect with the brand a new way. Twitter could have given the standard “404. File Not Found” message, but it didn’t. Seeing the Fail Whale, while totally aggravating on one level, was actually kind of fun.


Search by Agony

Hipmunk is adding personality to a pretty drab process: buying a flight online. Similar to, Hipmunk allows users to search for flights listed all over the web, whether at Orbitz, Expedia, or on carrier’s own websites. So what, right? But what Hipmunk offers is a better flight search experience.

Hipmunk's Search by Agony

Searching by Agony

The key innovation is the ability to sort flights by “agony,” which Hipmunk defines as a “combination of price, duration, and number of stops.” Unless you tell it to, Hipmunk won’t even show you flights that it figures no rational human would choose. Contrast that with Orbitz, where the top suggested flights will be $300 and feature two layovers. The second flight is $305 and features one layover. Yes, flight A is cheaper, but it also causes more agony. Hipmunk could have called this “sort by efficiency,” but instead went with “agony.” Great use of personality!

More Great Error Messages
One more Hipmunk example: in doing a recent flight search, I inadvertently selected a departure date that was after my arrival. I got an error message that read something like: “We’re sorry. Hipmunk does not yet support flights to the past.” It took me a second, but then I figured it out and got a real chuckle out of it. I just tried to replicate this error message, but it seems Hipmunk has taken the even better step automatically making you reenter your departure date if you have attempted to fly back in time. I’ve never been so disappointed not to receive an error message!

404 by Homer

Homer makes another 404 error.

For more… see Smashing Magazine’s list of great 404 Error Pages. Error pages are becoming quite the art form.

What are your favorite unexpected touches of personality?


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