Though computers have evolved rapidly, users waste up to 20 percent of their time dealing with computer issues, according to a new study released by the University of Copenhagen – Faculty of Science and Roskilde University.

Researchers concluded there are major gains to society by rethinking the systems and involving users in the development phase.

Frustrated computer users dealing with “an endlessly rotating beach ball, a program that crashes without saving data, or systems that require illogical procedures or simply do not work” is a surprisingly common scenario, according to new Danish research.

On average, the study found that between 11 and 20 percent of our time is wasted in front of computers on systems that do not work or are so difficult to understand that the task we want it to perform can’t be completed.

“It’s incredible that the figure is so high. However, most people experience frustration when using computers and can tell a horror story about an important PowerPoint presentation that was not saved or a system that crashed at a critical moment. Everyone knows that it is difficult to create IT systems that match people’s needs, but the figure should be much lower, and one thing that it shows is that ordinary people aren’t involved enough when the systems are developed,” said Professor Kasper Hornbæk.

Professor Morten Hertzum, the other researcher behind the study, emphasized that most frustrations are experienced in connection with the performance of completely ordinary tasks.

“The frustrations are not due to people using their computers for something highly advanced but because they experience problems in their performance of everyday tasks. This makes it easier to involve users in identifying problems. But it also means that problems that are not identified and solved will probably frustrate a large number of users,” said Hertzum.

Researchers studied 234 participants who spent between six and eight hours in front of a computer in their day-to-day work.

The participants had backgrounds such as student, accountant, consultant, but several of them actually worked in the IT industry.

Participants were asked to report situations in which the computer would not work properly or where the participants were frustrated about not being able to perform the task they wanted.

The study found that the problems most often experienced by the participants included that: “the system was slow,” “the system froze temporarily,” “the system crashed,” “it is difficult to find things.”

Those surveyed responded that 84 percent of the episodes had occurred before and that 87 percent of the episodes could happen again.

According to Hornbæk, we are having the same fundamental problems today that we had 15-20 years ago.

“The two biggest categories of problems are still about insufficient performance and lack of user-friendliness,” he said.

This means that there are major benefits to be gained for society if we experienced fewer problems in front of our computers. According to Hornbæk, the gains could be achieved if more resources are invested in rethinking how faults are presented to us on the computer.

“Part of the solution may be to shield us from knowing that the computer is working to solve a problem. In reality, there is no reason why we need to look at an incomprehensible box with commands or a frozen computer. The computer could easily solve the problems without displaying this, while it provided a back-up version of the system for us, so that we could continue to work with our tasks undisturbed,” he said.

At the same time, researchers recommended IT developers involve users when designing the systems to make them as easy to use and understandable as possible.

“When we’re all surrounded by IT systems that we’re cursing, it’s very healthy to ascertain that it’s probably not the users that are the problem but those who make the systems. The study clearly shows that there is still much room for improvement, and we therefore hope that it can create more focus on making more user-friendly systems in the future,” said Hornbæk.