affective design

Exploring Emotional Design

Road Rage on the Information Highway

EE Times has an article about how people exposed to poorly designed and hosted websites exhibit symptoms similar to those experienced during road rage… The causes are similar to those that create road rage. Pages that load too slowly (think slow moving traffic), difficulty navigating (inadequate road signage), distracting pop-ups (in-car distractions), and gratuitous ads (endless roadside billboards) all contribute to this ‘internet road rage’, or as they term it, mouse rage syndrome.

According to the article,

“Users want Google-style speed, function, and accuracy from all of the Web sites they visit, and they want it now. Unfortunately, many Web sites and their servers cannot deliver this.”

In testing poor websites, users “showed very distinct signs of stress and anxiety” as their faces “tensed visibly, with the teeth clenched together and the muscles around the mouth becoming taught.” Such facial expressions serve to increase feelings of anger, and communicate those emotions to others. Heart rate and behaviours such as repeatedly clicking or bashing the mouse also increased.

As mentioned in a previous article, the physiological or bodily dimension of emotion can have effects on how we experience emotions. A highly agitated or relaxed state tends to affect how we experience events, either amplifying (agitated) or reducing (relaxed) the intensity of the emotional response.

As the researchers who conducted the testing put it, “businesses selling online have a duty to provide an Internet experience that is as stress-free as possible.” This experience includes simple and easy-to-navigate layouts, on sites that load quickly and are continuously available. Users have built expectations around the internet based on the experiences they have when visiting sites like Google. Sites that violate those expectations provoke negative feelings in users and over time, will see their audience dwindle.

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    1. Alan Wexelblat December 21st, 2006 7:28 am

      I don’t understand why you think people have a “duty” to do this. It might be good business sense and one of the values of the Web is that it presents a multiplicity of options simply, allowing us to vote with our feet much more easily than we can in the physical world. But none of that equates to any form of moral duty on the part of the offering store/site/host.

      For example, I blog at copyfight.corante.com
      The hardware underlying that site is old and slow and subject to attack now and then. It’s maintained by donations, grants, and volunteer labor. Readers of the blog are sometimes frustrated by slow response, errors in posting comments, etc. But I reject the notion that I’ve failed in some moral “duty” because I’m writing in a blog that runs on crap hardware.

    2. trevvg December 21st, 2006 10:04 am

      You’re right. There is no “moral” duty on the part of the store/site/host. None of these entities are obliged to offer a stress free experience for purely moral or legal reasons.

      In fact, I would argue that many sites are successful because they are engaging. Depending on the context of the site and how you model anxiety and emotion, engagement can be seen as a positive form of stress,

      I picked that quote from the article because I felt it represented the notion of “duty” as a responsibility. Given the large quantity of information on usability that is available, it would be a responsibility for presenting the content of a site in a simple and easy to understand manner.