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Web Design and Mouse Rage Syndrome

Illustration: Anger

Have you ever been frustrated at a Web site that downloads with the speed of an Alaskan glacier? Or become angry when a favorite site, or your Internet connection, is down? Have you experienced any of these symptoms:

  • Faster heart rate?
  • Increased sweating?
  • Furious clicking of the mouse?
  • Simultaneous clicking and cursing the screen?
  • Bashing the mouse?

Come on now -- admit it! Maybe some of them, just once or twice? Because if any of this sounds familiar, you're not alone.

Mouse rage syndrome

The consequences of poor Web site performance don't usually make news, unless there's a big outage on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Then the story invariably focuses on the business lost by companies whose sites were overloaded or down. But what about the effects of poor performance on customers? A recent study by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), an independent, not-for-profit organisation based in Oxford, UK., provides this perspective.

Researchers found that badly designed and hosted websites cause stress and anger, and coined the term "Mouse Rage Syndrome" (or MRS). They concluded that five key IT flaws in the way websites are designed and hosted may lead to harmful health effects.

Those five problems will come as no surprise to any regular user of the Web: slowly loading pages, confusing layouts, excessive pop-ups, unnecessary advertising, and site unavailability. But as I was saying in my previous post, it is not fair to blame IT for these problems, when most of them are the result of poor design choices by Web site designers and developers.

Damaging customers' health

The study combined data from a YouGov poll of 2,500 people with physiological tests on a separate sample of Internet users, who were asked to find information from a number of different websites. Tests measured physical and physiological reactions to website experiences, looking at brainwaves, heart-rate fluctuations, muscle tension and skin conductivity. According to the report:

When the test participants came to the 'problem' sites that we had deliberately chosen as comparisons for the 'Perfect Website' evaluation exercise [a prior study], responses changed quite dramatically in most, but not all, cases. While a few managed to stay calm and simply 'rise above' the problems presented by crazy graphics and slow-loading pages, others showed very distinct signs of stress and anxiety.

Some changes in muscle tension were quite dramatic...While this was happening, the participant's faces also tensed visibly, with the teeth clenched together and the muscles around the mouth becoming taught. These are physically uncomfortable situations that reduce concentration and increase feelings of anger.

-- YouGov report

These reactions, if not managed, can eventually lead to other, more serious, health problems.

Poor designs can kill

According to the SIRC report, "users want Google-style speed, function and accuracy from all of the websites they visit, and they want it now. Unfortunately, many websites and their servers cannot deliver this". The result is consumers seeking alternative websites in a bid to avoid undue stress and Mouse Rage.

Jacques Greyling, managing director of Rackspace Managed Hosting, who commissioned the study, commented:

We believe that businesses that are selling online have a duty to their customers to ensure that the experience is as stress free as possible. The public has shown that it wants to buy online, ... (so) businesses need to provide simple and easy to navigate layouts, whilst focusing on speed and uptime.

-- Jacques Greyling

If more studies confirm these findings, which will probably seem obvious to anyone who spends a lot of time online, maybe more Web designers will get the message that their poor designs are not just killing the business. They could be killing people -- really.

Web Performance Matters!

[This post was first published on Blogger on December 16, 2006.]

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