The Four Horsemen of Bad UX: Frustration, Confusion, Disappointment, and Distraction

Posted By Debbie on September 11, 2013

Categories: UX/UI

Tags: bad ux, four horsemen

I like to explain bad UX to clients by telling them about what I like to call, “The Four Horsemen of Bad UXTM.” These are the things that announce the possible downfall of your site, page, or mobile app.



Frustration is about, “I was trying to do this, but I couldn’t.” I wanted to contact the company, but they wanted me to fill out a huge form with 15 questions. I wanted to check out, but they kept rejecting my password for not fitting into their password rules. I wanted to change my settings, but I can only change my settings from my cell phone on a Wednesday.

Frustration is about users assuming how the process will go, and then it doesn’t go like that at all. It’s about expectations.


Confusion is about, “I wanted to do this, but couldn’t figure out how to get it done.” I wanted to check on the status of my claim, but couldn’t find my claims after logging in. I wanted to do a search for what I wanted, but couldn’t find the search box (which can also be frustrating and disappointing). I thought this link was going to take me where I wanted, but instead, they tried to sell me some other product. I did a search, but the search results seemed disorganised… it was hard to find what I really wanted. The name at the top of the page on the home page was not the same name on the top of the page when I got to their products… am I still on the same company site?

Confusion is another broken expectation. Your visitor expects that there is something she can get done, and then learns she can’t… at all or not easily.


Disappointment is about, “I thought I was going to be able to do something, and I couldn’t.” I thought I was going to be able to change my address online, but it turns out I have to call the company (which can be frustrating too). I filtered my search results by my size, but the item detail page said it wasn’t available in my size. It told me I could buy tickets by where I wanted to sit, but that feature looked disabled. I took their little quiz, but it said they didn’t have enough information to estimate how much I’d need to retire. What a waste of my time!

Disappointment is another broken expectation. Your potential customer is trying to do something and hits a wall.


Distraction is about the company throwing “cool things,” bells, whistles, interactive modules, games, intro movies, or Flash in the way. It’s when your page tries to sell someone something, but someone put an animated, colourful, always changing thing in a side column; it’s nearly impossible to NOT look at that. Yet that’s not where you want people’s attention, and it’s not really where they want to look either. But someone thought it would be cool!

Distraction is where the most eye-catching thing on the page and what someone is trying to accomplish on the page are not in harmony. Making things eye catchy or cool should support your goals for users or their goals for themselves rather than working against them. Dropping things into side columns is no excuse. Those may still be distractions.

Distractions can also be more subtle. If someone is on an eCommerce site and they’ve finally landed on the page showing the item they wanted, what’s the #1 thing you want them to do? You want them to buy this. You want your site to sell people things and make you money. The more buttons, doo-dads, and other things you put between the user and the “Add To Cart” button, the more you are possibly distracting them.

For example, where should “Write a Review of This Product” go? Do you want people to think about doing that before they’ve bought it? Should that be dominant on the page? If it’s not enhancing the experience and helping people get where they wanted to go, it’s possibly a distraction.

Look For The Four Horsemen

In your web and mobile projects, look for The Four Horsemen. Better that you find them now than release them to the public. User testing can help. Being objective and honest can help.

Just remember that frustration, confusion, distraction, and disappointment can kill a user experience. They are cousins of each other, and many users will feel more than one of those in reaction to something you’ve presented. Defeat these horsemen by being open to suggestions, getting one or more strong and talented UX people on your side, and not being afraid to test and/or make changes.