Nothing happens. You wait.
Click. Click click click.
Rage clicking is a universal indicator of frustration. I’ve done it. You’ve done it.
You click a button, or a link, or an image, and expect something to happen – but nothing does. As frustration and impatience mount, you click over and over again, with increasing frequency.
Rage against the machine
Rage clicking can be understood as part of a broader spectrum of behavior called “computer rage” – a psychological phenomenon likely as old as the personal computer itself.
Computer rage describes the verbal and physical abuse that a frustrated computer user directs at their uncooperative device. It may include exasperated muttering or cursing, mouse slamming, keyboard pounding, hitting the table with your fist, angrily slamming shut your laptop, or yelling “Are you freaking kidding me?”
Computers (and all of our devices) have a knack for inducing disproportionate rage. One explanation is the Media Equation theory, which says that people treat their computers as if they were human. Thus, when something doesn’t work we feel let down and betrayed. The failure of the interface to do what we expected, to our brains, is like a violation of social norms.
The definition of frustration
In Social and psychological influences on computer user frustration, the authors describe frustration as “any interruption to the completion of an action or task,” specifically related to “what the individual is expecting.”
In other words, frustration happens when someone’s expectations are not met, and they are therefore unable to achieve their goal.
That means the triggers that cause people to rage click are, literally, the definition of frustration. When a user clicks and nothing happens, the interface has failed to meet their expectations.
Particularly because the failure seems arbitrary (and not “justified by socially acceptable rules” – remember the Media Equation) the resulting frustration runs deep.
Why do we rage click?
Frustration provokes a handful of common reactions among all humans. The most basic is aggression: “the natural, unlearned reaction.” (Still quoting from Social and psychological influences… Read the whole chapter if you’re into this stuff!)
Another reaction is fixation: “the repetition of courses of action that were once effective.”
Rage clicking is a form of this. From all our experience using online interfaces, we know that clicking an interactive element should produce a response. Clicking has always been effective. Logically, it should be effective now. So we keep clicking.
Fixation happens especially when the frustrated person is unable to conceive of a different way to solve the problem. If clicking doesn’t work, what else could? It’s no wonder users feel stumped.
What does it tell you?
Rage clicking for me is my user frustration inbox. It tells me the top frustrating paths and interactions within the product.
– Anup Surendran, VP of Product at QuestionPro
Rage clicks definitely indicate that something has gone wrong. Can we know anything more specific?
At the simplest level, they may signal a bug. Broken elements are a straightforward fix, but they can go undetected for a long time – especially on marketing pages, where users haven’t converted yet and can just leave rather than send website feedback.
Rage clicks are useful for flagging down and repairing these harmful errors.
More troublingly, rage clicks can be an indicator that an action is taking too long. Issues of speed and performance are harder to fix, due to their systemic nature. However, they are crucial, as site speed has been consistently shown to heavily effect UX.
Lastly, rage clicks can reveal problems with visual messaging. In other words, users think non-clickable elements are clickable due to unclear or inconsistent design. These issues strike to the heart of usability, and may require very serious rethinking to correct.
Some questions to think about when addressing this kind of problem are:
- What did our users expect to happen when they clicked [Element X]?
- What about the visuals may have suggested that this element was clickable?
- Is our visual language consistent across different pages and flows?
- What goals do users have on this page? What’s the best way to help them move towards it?
Rage clicks are just one user behavior pattern that can be used to identify UX problems. We think behavioral data can help companies create better experiences for their users, and we’re putting that hypothesis to the test with TryMyUI Stream, our newest tech.