Stuck in the frustrating cycle

Breaking Free from Clunky Apps

We've all been there – stuck in the frustrating cycle of using a slow and clunky app that we're stuck dealing with every single day. Being productive sometimes feels like making progress on a treadmill. And these clunky apps have been around ever since computers first became a part of our daily routine a few decades ago. Back then, we were forgiving, blaming their glitches on the infancy of the tech world, hoping things would naturally get better over time.

And sure, in the past few decades, computer hardware has evolved at a staggering pace, with improvements in processing power, memory capacity, storage technology, and graphics capabilities. While it’s challenging to provide an exact percentage of how much computer hardware has evolved, it is safe to say that the advancements have been significant, with many aspects of hardware performance improving several hundred times over.

Yet, here's the kicker – a recent study by the University of Copenhagen shines a light on a persistent issue: we're still losing a significant portion - up to 20% - of our valuable time grappling with applications we rely on that either disappoint us due to poor performance or turn into such puzzles with bad usability that they hinder us from completing our intended tasks [1]. What's even more alarming is that this 20% covers not only individuals who are computer novices or feel uneasy using them but also includes virtually everyone who uses a computer as part of their job, regardless of their level of expertise [1].

Alright, we all know computer issues pop up now and then, that's no big surprise. But let's take a closer look at what this study tells us: it reveals two significant problems caused by these frustrating application glitches.

First, imagine this – if up to 20% of your time using an application goes down the drain, it's like waving goodbye to nearly a whole day's work every single week. That means you're not only grappling with the headaches these issues bring but also playing catch-up to make up for the lost productivity. Considering that nearly 90% of all Danes (and a similar percentage could be expected for comparable countries) rely on computers [2], this could potentially result in a substantial expense for the company.

And secondly, it gets even worse. The study also zeroes in on a more profound issue. Dealing with these problems regularly not only makes you less effective at work, but also increases the risk of these annoyances affecting your overall well-being, causing more stress, and possibly even leading to burnout down the line [1]. So, it's not just about work hiccups; it could also have a lasting impact on how you feel both mentally and physically.

So it seems these frustrations actually end up hitting both our work efficiency and our personal well-being.

Unraveling the Performance Paradox

So how come poor performance is still such a significant issue despite that staggering development of computers?

One potential explanation lies within the Jevons paradox, which suggests that as technology becomes more efficient, our appetite for its use grows [3]. This leads to a higher demand for computing power, increased consumption of digital content, and greater data usage. A prime example is the fact that website download sizes have surged by 400% over the past decade (a staggering 1300% increase for mobile) [4].

So it's evident that boosting computer performance alone won't solve this issue. So where to turn?

Fortunately, there's more than one way to enhance performance, and it's not just about cranking up hardware power. By managing resources more efficiently and being more careful with your data transfers you'd come a long way in increasing performance without the need for over-muscled servers. And this strategy isn't some hidden gem or newfound revelation for most developers; having this as a top priority while developing any application is well-acknowledged. But unfortunately, it's a concept that often finds itself tucked away on the back burner despite its significance as soon as the budget or deadline tightens in a project. Sounds familiar?

It's also worth noting that managing resource consumption holds significance not only for performance enhancement but also for maintaining a low environmental impact, a factor of utmost importance in today's digital age. It's a collective responsibility that deserves more consideration from all of us.

The Usability Gap

Another significant challenge highlighted in the study revolves around the issue of poor usability. We believe that the importance of usability has frequently been underestimated, even though it plays a crucial role in influencing how users interact. There's a clear and undeniable connection between user frustration and the existence of usability problems within an application [1]. In reality, emotion is the very key to user experience, and software should ideally evoke feelings of empowerment, support, and simplicity in our daily lives.

Imagine a world where every digital interaction seamlessly guides you, replacing frustration with a sense of accomplishment. Picture software that intuitively understands your needs, where every click, swipe, and tap effortlessly aligns with your intentions, making technology a true companion on your journey.

But why does the reality often fall short of this ideal? One contributing factor lies in the notorious drive for cost reduction, which compels software developers to cut corners and compromise on usability. The relentless pressure to swiftly release software to meet market demands can lead to compromises in the design and testing phases, allowing usability concerns to surface during real-world usage.

Moreover, as the digital landscape continues to evolve, the complexity of modern applications has shifted the focus from user-friendliness towards technical prowess, creating a gap between what users need and what software delivers.

Towards a Brighter Digital Future

So, what can we take away from all of this?

When repeatedly being let down by computers it breaks the flow of the user's productivity and the time loss could be enormous and a substantial cost for users and their employers. And these recurring frustrations have a ripple effect - they shape our perceptions, foster workarounds, and can even contribute to burnout [1].

So let's agree on never putting performance optimization on the back burner and to prioritize speed in your application, acknowledging that the Jevons paradox reminds us that relying solely on hardware advancements won't be enough. And always recognizing the paramount importance of usability is not just a matter of convenience, but a fundamental necessity. By embracing user-centric principles, usability testing, and valuing the expertise of UX and design experts, we take essential steps toward closing the usability gap.

Hopefully, you found this journey insightful and perhaps discovered some new insights, or maybe it served as a friendly reminder about the crucial roles that both performance and usability play within an application.

Thanks for reading.

And before you go, don't forget to explore the full study right here: Frustration: Still a Common User Experience






Further reading

Building a performance culture

How to ensure performance

Does your website contribute to global warming?