I agree that the combat system in oWoD is lacking, but I haven't found describing failed damage rolls too difficult. Assuming a hit, there are two possible scenarios: soak or poor damage roll.
Soaking is easiest because it is defined as:
"resist[ing] a certain degree of physical punishment"
and a general example is given:
"a normal human can soak only bashing damage (this reflects the body's natural resilience to such attacks)."
I've always taken those to mean that a successful soak does not equal a miss or maneuver, but is more like getting punched in the side and the force dissipating through the body rather than doing "noticeable" damage like breaking a rib or causing a bruise.
For vampires soaking lethal damage I interpret a successful soak as the fact that a vampire has some inherent toughness, and that a vampire's body has little worth damaging. Even a bullet that passes through the vampire's kidneys, intestines, and stomach won't impair anything the vampire needs and won't necessarily register on the health chart.
A failed damage roll I usually describe as a scratch, unlikely deflection, graphic but cosmetic damage (the bullet tears his ear away, but he's still coming at you!), or even (as a last resort) a solid-seeming hit that does no observable damage (the characters don't think in terms of health levels, just what they directly perceive). Just because the damage doesn't register on the health chart doesn't mean it can't exist or have gameplay consequences, it just doesn't move the character closer to destruction or impose dice pool penalties.