When people get frustrated by digital products, they become angry which impedes task completion. Understanding this common exasperation will help you make better sites, apps, and software.

Poorly designed, frustrating digital experiences make otherwise harmoniously calm people angry—really, really angry. This probably doesn’t come as much of a shock. Interface rage is something we’ve all felt.

Some hurl offending computers from windows. Others write exceedingly long research articles on the subject. We all cope in our own way.

I’m infamous around the office for, shall we say, colorful pronouncements when using maddening apps, sites, and software. My infantile rantings sail right past the PG-13 standard into Rated R land. I’m not proud of it. But at least I’m not alone. Apparently a good many of us confess to verbal or physical abuse of our computers.

The Downward Spiral of Digital Fury

The worst thing about getting worked up over bad digital products is once we surrender to anger, we create a self-reinforcing cycle that makes the problem worse.

Maybe we’re filling out an online form and miss a required field, instruction, or error. Perhaps the form is just plain broken. What should have been insanely easy becomes a time-sucking ordeal. Anger is a natural response, but it makes us harried and mistake-prone. When flustered, we miss obvious things we’d otherwise see. Problems multiply, making us all the more furious.

Even worse, sometimes we come to a digital product already angry, already irrational. Those of us who tackle the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (the dreaded FAFSA) know what it means to start at our wit’s end. In this case, the downward spiral begins immediately.

Death. Taxes. Anger.

User frustration is depressingly common. Online it is the rule, not the exception. The interface rage it generates is a fact of modern life. I get mad. You get mad. I bet even the Dalai Lama has lost his digital cool when trying to order new Warby Parkers. The question is, what exactly can you, a digital product maker, do about it?

Begin by focusing less on the anger itself and more on the commonality of it all. Instead of wondering what to do if someone gets upset when using your product, ask instead what you should do when they inevitably become blind with anger.

A Different Model for UX Success

People are naturally impatient online. Anger flows easily from this. Angry folks exhibit poor judgement, make rash decisions, and are generally irrational. Your software must be truly amazing if it performs well in the face of this emotional tsunami.  Your fancy app might be wonderfully usable under calmer, even-keeled circumstances. Perhaps sturdiness under duress is a more legitimate measure of success.

Testing this hypothesis with users would be difficult to say the least. Fury is so dang subjective. And making people break blood vessels on purpose feels a tad unethical. So we’ll have to settle for the next best thing.

Agree with Reality

Assume everyone using your digital product is having an exceedingly bad day. They are upset, irate, and stressed. It’s doesn’t matter why. Maybe your app is the cause. Maybe not. Perhaps they have a hundred things to do and your thing is just one of them. Perhaps they just finished the FAFSA before turning to your app. Life’s not fair.

You can rely on people to be frustrated by technology. This is never going to change. Adopt a mindset that assumes perpetual user exasperation. It will revolutionize how you think about, build, and deliver your product. Everyone from the newest employee to the CEO will make better choices as a result.

About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

That means ensuring they can withstand the endless onslaught of irrational human behavior.

Author: @ExperienceDean
Graphic: @djosephmachado
Image Source: Engraving by Martin Engelbrecht
Acknowledgement: Cian O’Connor for conceptual inspiration