According to a recent study conducted by the University of Copenhagen and Roskilde University, despite the significant advancements in computer technology over the past 15 years, computers continue to experience malfunctions at a rate ranging from 11 to 20 percent. These findings emphasize the need, the researchers suggest, for a paradigm shift in system design, with greater involvement of users in the development process, to unlock substantial benefits for society.
Instances such as an endlessly rotating beach ball, program crashes resulting in data loss, and illogical procedures or non-functional systems are all too familiar to computer users. Regrettably, the frustration caused by malfunctioning computers remains a widespread occurrence, as highlighted by Danish researchers.
Surprisingly, studies reveal that a significant amount of our time spent on computers, averaging between 11 and 20 percent, is wasted due to malfunctioning systems or complex interfaces that hinder our ability to accomplish desired tasks. Professor Kasper Hornbæk, one of the researchers involved in the study, deems this situation far from satisfactory.
“It’s astonishing how high this percentage is. Almost everyone has experienced the frustration of a critical PowerPoint presentation not being saved or a system crashing at a crucial moment. While it is widely recognized that creating IT systems that align with users’ needs is challenging, the occurrence of such issues should be much lower. This highlights the insufficient involvement of ordinary users during the development of these systems,” Professor Hornbæk asserts.
Professor Morten Hertzum, the other researcher contributing to the study, emphasizes that the majority of frustrations stem from the performance of everyday tasks, rather than complex endeavors.
“The frustrations encountered are not limited to advanced computer usage but rather occur when individuals face difficulties in carrying out their routine tasks. This presents an opportunity to involve users more actively in problem identification. However, it also implies that unresolved issues will likely lead to frustration among a significant number of users,” explains Morten Hertzum.
The problems are only too recognizable
In order to investigate this issue, the researchers enlisted the help of 234 participants who spend an average of six to eight hours daily working on computers. These participants were instructed to report any instances where the computer malfunctioned or when they faced frustration due to being unable to complete their desired tasks.
During a one-hour session, the participants shared their experiences with the researchers. The problems frequently encountered by the participants included issues such as slow system performance, temporary system freezes, system crashes, and difficulties in locating information. It is worth noting that the participants encompassed various professional backgrounds, including students, accountants, consultants, and even individuals working in the IT industry.
“Several of the survey participants had expertise in IT, while the majority of others were highly proficient computer users. Despite their knowledge and skills, they encountered these problems, which suggests that fundamental functions are at stake,” explains Kasper Hornbæk.
According to the survey participants, 84 percent of the reported episodes were recurring issues, and 87 percent were deemed likely to happen again in the future. This indicates that we are still facing the same fundamental problems today as we did 15-20 years ago, as highlighted by Kasper Hornbæk.
“The two major categories of problems that persist are related to inadequate performance and a lack of user-friendliness,” he emphasizes.
Morten Hertzum adds his perspective, noting that while technology has undoubtedly advanced and become more capable, our expectations from it have also increased. Despite faster download speeds, they are still often perceived as frustratingly slow.
88 per cent use a computer at work
According to Statistics Denmark, in 2018, 88 percent of Danes utilized computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, or other mobile devices for work. In light of this, the recent study suggests that a significant portion of a typical workweek, ranging from half a day to a full day, may be wasted due to computer-related issues.
“There is a considerable loss of productivity in workplaces across Denmark because individuals are unable to carry out their regular tasks efficiently due to computer malfunctions. Moreover, it leads to significant frustration for the individual users,” remarks Kasper Hornbæk.
This highlights the substantial benefits society can reap if we encounter fewer computer problems. Kasper Hornbæk suggests that investing additional resources in reimagining how computer errors are presented to us could be part of the solution.
“For instance, shielding users from the knowledge that the computer is actively resolving a problem could be beneficial. There is no inherent need for us to be confronted with baffling command prompts or frozen screens. The computer can seamlessly resolve the issues behind the scenes while providing us with a backup version of the system, allowing us to continue working uninterrupted,” proposes Kasper Hornbæk.
Simultaneously, IT developers should further involve users during the system design phase to ensure ease of use and comprehension. The objective is to create systems that are as user-friendly as possible. The researcher asserts that the issue lies not with poor IT users, but rather with inadequate systems.
“When we find ourselves surrounded by IT systems that frustrate us, it is crucial to recognize that the problem likely lies with the system creators, not the users. The study clearly demonstrates that there is still ample room for improvement. Therefore, we hope that it will drive increased attention towards developing more user-friendly systems in the future,” concludes Kasper Hornbæk.