What is worth waiting for?

What about speed? No, not the Keanu Reeves movie, but the speed of your product. How much thought have you given it? When building a product, speed is the one aspect that I think is often overlooked, yet it’s one of the features we have a lot of influence over.

Take a minute and think about it… Speed can keep us from making a purchase, navigating through a website, or can even seriously harm our view of a brand. We barely notice when a company does it right, but they enjoy huge sales and ensured brand loyalty. It really is the secret feature that everyone knows about.

The list of things you can do to improve your product’s speed is long (and to be honest, often technical). Reducing server requests, minimizing code, and optimizing images are a good place to start. We think, “of course we can do that,” but all of the fancy aesthetic design (custom fonts, etc) choices, new functionality, and increased content cancel out any progress we thought we made. The truth is our users tend to care more about speed than bells and whistles. They want the information now. Did I mention that search engine rankings now consider speed too? How about that?

Bells and whistles can occasionally serve a purpose, but the load time due to analytics and tracking scripts is becoming insane. When the GDPR launched in Europe, USA Today decided to launch a European version without tracking and ads - bringing the page size from 5.2mb to just 500kb - a decrease of nearly 90%!

Nick Heer disassembled a CNN article only to find it contained 11 web fonts (414kb), 4 stylesheets (315kb), 20 frames, 29 XML HTTP requests (500kb) and approximately one hundred (100!) scripts totalling several megabytes.

The vast majority of these resources are not directly related to the information on the page, and I’m including advertising. Many of the scripts that were loaded are purely for surveillance purposes: self-hosted analytics, of which there are several examples; various third-party analytics firms like Salesforce, Chartbeat, and Optimizely; and social network sharing widgets. They churn through CPU cycles and cause my six-year-old computer to cry out in pain and fury. I’m not asking much of it; I have opened a text-based document on the web. Nick Heer - The Bullshit Web

Speed is a two-way street

While there’s lots you can do to minimize the page load in your end, speed is a two-way street and even with the most efficient product, there’s one thing you can’t control - the user’s connection. We can make our mobile apps load fast, optimize images, and reduce features that aren’t used on mobile, but it’ll only get us so far. If the user is on a slow carrier connection, there’s nothing we can do to improve that situation.

This is a situation that I’ve found myself working around lately in my work. The product I’m working on has many users in Asia with slower connection speeds. Often they also need to go through a VPN as well which slows them even further. So does that mean there’s nothing we can do to better serve these users?

Of course not!

Jacob Nielsen wrote a great article on this topic that we’ve used as a guiding star in our work. The gist of it is this: There are 3 main time limits (which are determined by human perceptual abilities) to keep in mind when optimizing web and application performance.

You can adjust the timings to what fits your situation, but basically we will think of scenarios from these three time limits:

The basic advice regarding response times has been about the same for thirty years [Miller 1968; Card et al. 1991]:

  • 0.1 second is about the limit for having the user feel that the system is reacting instantaneously, meaning that no special feedback is necessary except to display the result.
  • 1.0 second is about the limit for the user’s flow of thought to stay uninterrupted, even though the user will notice the delay. Normally, no special feedback is necessary during delays of more than 0.1 but less than 1.0 second, but the user does lose the feeling of operating directly on the data.
  • 10 seconds is about the limit for keeping the user’s attention focused on the dialogue. For longer delays, users will want to perform other tasks while waiting for the computer to finish, so they should be given feedback indicating when the computer expects to be done. Feedback during the delay is especially important if the response time is likely to be highly variable, since users will then not know what to expect.

For anything that’ll take 10 seconds or longer and we’ll show a percentage indicator so the user gets an idea of the anticipated waiting time. Why? Because users don’t actually hate waiting, they hate not knowing how long they’ll have to wait. This is something that call-in customer service center’s have known for years. Call a customer support line and you’ll likely be greeted with the anticipated waiting time. Being told the wait time is 6 minutes may seem like a long time, but waiting for 6 minutes without being told will feel like a whole lot longer.

Not only does being given the the anticipated wait time give you a reference - it gives you something that’s even more valuable to users - the data needed for making a decision! 6 minutes? Ok I’ll hold. 34 minutes? No I’ll call back later. Without knowing the anticipated waiting time we don’t have the knowledge to make that decision. Wouldn’t you want this information for a lot more interactions in your life? Dinner at your mother-in-laws will be four hours. It sounds like you have a decision to make.

Finally, as you’re aware from waiting on the phone - the time remaining decreases. 6 minutes, now it’s 4 minutes and boom - you’re in. The same input is extremely useful dealing with technical data intensive digital tools. Has it crashed? Is it still processing? A visual indicator is there to show the user that the tool is still working - and even to give you something to rest your eyes on! This is why you’re hearing music while waiting on the phone. The music might be pretty terrible, but in most cases, it at least beats silence (and if not, at least give them credit for trying).

No man is an island

Just like no man is an island, no problem has only one solution. It’s therefore important to remember to tackle things like page speed from multiple angles as there’s only so much you can do on each front - but combined you can achieve far greater results. It is important to look creatively at the problem, collaboratively, and present the solution in a way that considers the user’s needs first. While I have some good ideas on how to improve this experience, my opinion is not the end all. It takes many minds to look at a problem as complex as making our speed strangled digital world faster - or at least more tolerable. So, what is your answer? What are the best solutions increasing our speed? How can we make ourselves more comfortable during the inevitable waits? I’m curious to hear what you have to say!

Please share:TwitterLinkedInFacebook
Get more writing like this

Sign up and get new writing, just like this, every other two weeks. Unsubscribe any time (I'm not a dickhead).

Books

User Experiences that Matter (2016)
Mastering Freelance (2017)

If You're Getting Started in UX

What's a 'User Experience' Anyways?
How Do You Learn UX?
Working as a UX Designer

Next Steps in UX

Working as a UX Lead
Defining a UX Strategy
Writing as Part of the UX Process

Thought-pieces

AI Ethics - A New Skill for UX-Designers
Designer Ethics & The Moral Implications of our Apps
The Future of the UX-Designer
Voice Input’s Effect on Social Norms

The Work We Do

Chasing Growth
New Tools Don’t Always Equal Productivity
Why Designers Need to Write
The Tools I Use to Run My Business

Featured Writing & Interviews Elsewhere

Q&A With Anton Sten, Author of User Experiences that Matter - Adobe
What the F*#!ck is a UX Designer anyway - Working not Working
It’s Time for a Code of Ethics for Designers - Medium Modus
The Art of Going Freelance - .Net Magazine
It Takes Time - Being Freelance episode 100

From My Newsletter

UX of Email Newsletters

Working as a UX-lead

2018 in review

What’s my location?

I’m taking a break

Stay humble, stay eager

Back to Work!

Vanity Metrics

The Future of Retail

2017 review

What do you do?

Carpe Diem UX-designers

What´s Good Design?

Chasing Growth

A Redesign

Is Less More?

Why Simple is Hard

Pricing It Perfectly

Trusting Your Gut

Built to last

An Eye on the Future

UX Design explained

Bite-sized Posts

The Enemy

The Hot Potato Process

Leave the Phone at Home

Delight Comes Last

The Cost of Lies

Big Mood Machine

Simplicity is a war

The next iPhone

Leadership or management

Everyone should own a dog

Silence is gold

Cameras that understand

Humans, not users

Keeping AI Honest

Right to privacy

The State of UX in 2019

Why scrap scrappy?

Organized for browsing

The iPhone Franchise

Why Small Teams Win

The Bullshit Web

Just keep at it

Let them eat cake

Netflix Culture

Skype

Unfoundered

Tech is not Neutral

Productivity

Whose risk?

Why Small Teams Win

Phone Bored

Karim Rashid

Dieter Rams

Bleeding Out

Fake News is spam

Conversational Design

Dropbox

Bye bye Facebook

Cuba

The seat at the table

Givenchy

Love letters to trees

Pricing Philisophy

Specialize

Personas

Make me think

Hawaii Missile Alert

Why Design Systems fail

What You Build

Checkout for Winners

Living a Testing Culture

Creative Class

How To Predict Your Future

Github

Medium

Design quotes

Enough

Why?

ARKit

Designing for Mobile

Failure, Reflect, Renew

Growth

Working with me

Great user experience

Naming your icons

Conversations

All writing

The Enemy

The Hot Potato Process

Leave the Phone at Home

UX of Email Newsletters

Delight Comes Last

The Cost of Lies

Big Mood Machine

Simplicity is a war

The next iPhone

Working as a UX-lead

Leadership or management

Everyone should own a dog

Silence is gold

Cameras that understand

Humans, not users

Keeping AI Honest

Right to privacy

2018 in review

What’s my location?

The State of UX in 2019

Why scrap scrappy?

I’m taking a break

Organized for browsing

Stay humble, stay eager

The iPhone Franchise

Why Small Teams Win

Back to Work!

The Bullshit Web

Just keep at it

Let them eat cake

Netflix Culture

Skype

Unfoundered

Vanity Metrics

Tech is not Neutral

Productivity

Whose risk?

Why Small Teams Win

Phone Bored

Karim Rashid

Dieter Rams

Bleeding Out

Fake News is spam

Conversational Design

Dropbox

Bye bye Facebook

Cuba

The seat at the table

Givenchy

Love letters to trees

Pricing Philisophy

Specialize

Personas

Make me think

The Future of Retail

Hawaii Missile Alert

2017 review

Why Design Systems fail

What You Build

Checkout for Winners

Living a Testing Culture

What do you do?

Creative Class

How To Predict Your Future

Carpe Diem UX-designers

What´s Good Design?

Chasing Growth

Github

Medium

A Redesign

Design quotes

Enough

Why?

ARKit

Designing for Mobile

Is Less More?

Why Simple is Hard

Pricing It Perfectly

Failure, Reflect, Renew

Trusting Your Gut

Built to last

An Eye on the Future

Growth

Working with me

UX Design explained

Great user experience

Naming your icons

Conversations