How to Make Your Users Enjoy Waiting

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Waiting is typically an enormously displeasurable activity: It’s unproductive, boring, and even tense.

And so, if you ask users to wait, many of them will refuse. According to a study by Forrester Research, almost half of consumers expect a site to load in two seconds—and if it takes longer than three, 40% leave.

So, should you prioritize page load time over everything else? If you do that, you’ll have to get rid of many of the features enriching your UX—like that interactive graphic, or video clip, or high-resolution image.

The solution: Make waiting fun. Or at the very least, make waiting more efficient, less dull, and less stressful. Here are five techniques to help you do just that.

1. Give Feedback Strategically

There’s a reason kids ask, “Are we there yet?” during long car rides: It’s harder to wait when you don’t know how much longer you’ll be waiting.

Knowing that, you might be tempted to show users a progress bar whenever loading occurs. But hold off.

According to the “king of usability,” Jakob Nielsen, there are three time limits to be aware of.

  • If a response occurs within 0.1 seconds, users perceive it as “instant,” meaning that you don’t need to do anything but show them the result.

  • If a response occurs within 1 second, users will notice the delay. However, special feedback still isn’t necessary.

  • If a response takes more than 10 seconds, you’ll lose user attention. Either distract them, or tell them how much longer it’ll take so they can start another task.

These time limits are fairly well-known. However, note that there’s a big swath of time between 1 second and 10. What do you do if a response takes 4 seconds? What about 9?

Two researchers from Carnegie Mellon found that showing users a progress bar when a task took less than 5 seconds actually made the task feel longer. It turns out, a progress bar (while fantastic for managing expectations) draws attention to the wait-time.

With that in mind, I recommend using progress bars for load times expected to be 5 seconds or more.

2. The More Updates, the Better

Interestingly, when given the choice between a speedy long line and a slow short line, people will choose the long line. We like to feel as though we’re continually making progress. (To test this theory, ask yourself whether you’d rather drive 30 miles in stop-and-go traffic or 100 miles down a deserted freeway.)

And that’s why progress bars or loading symbols that frequently “pause” aren’t as desirable as the symbols that constantly update.

Compare the two progress bars from Pic Monkey and Photo Cat.

Pic Monkey loading screen

Pic Monkey’s loading bar updates in big chunks, going from roughly 20% to 45% to 90% to completion.

Photo Cat's loading screen

While Photo Cat’s image editing tools took an identical amount of time to load, the bar updated far more frequently, showing at least 15 steadily higher percentages. This gives the illusion of a faster load time.

You can achieve the same effect by using a pulsating progress bar. When Chris Harrison and his colleagues studied the effects of five different progress bar “types,” they discovered they could increase the perception of load time by 11% simply by using a bar that pulsed from light blue to navy at an increasing frequency.

3. Use Early Completion

Have you heard the phrase, “Done is better than perfect”? Well, it definitely applies to loading. If you render the page in sections, rather than all at once when it’s completely loaded, you’ll reduce your users’ passive wait time (i.e., the amount of time they’re sitting there with nothing to do.)

Google uses this technique with Inbox, its email app. The skeleton of the page shows up immediately: a second or two later, your messages appear; a second or two after that, your Google Hangout chats are displayed.

Google Inbox
Google Inbox: Done is better than pefect

The user barely notices what’s missing, because he or she is too busy looking at what is there.

This strategy also works with smaller elements.

When you upload media to Facebook, the loading process is depicted by a grayed-out picture frame (also called filler content). This frame is replaced by the real file once the process is complete.

Facebook uploading process

And this technique effectively halves your wait time, because rather than waiting for the whole file to finish, you’re waiting for the frame. Once you’ve seen that, the wait is so brief it doesn’t register.

4. Make It Fun

Here’s where you have the opportunity to bend the rules. The more fun and engaging you can make your loading page or symbol, the more distracting it’ll be.

One of my favorite examples comes from Pretty Loaded. You’re shown a fairly standard percentage bar–but each percentage comes with a description:

enter image description here Right before you reach 100%, the screen flashes “TTYL.”

The loading screen of Lordz dance academy is almost entirely yellow. Your eyes immediately are drawn to the tiny dancing silhouette in the middle–and kept there, because watching him move is mesmerizing.

Lordz animated GIF loading screen

In fact, the illustration is so cool that I was almost disappointed when the home screen finally loaded.

Run 4 Tiger, a project from the World Wildlife Fund, also has a hypnotizing screen.

A tiger’s face is sketched in tandem with the loading progress. By the time you’ve reached 100%, the full drawing has emerged.

Run 4 Tiger

These examples are not only beautiful, they’re also relevant. When designing your loading page, it’s important to take into account user psychology and best practices, but if you want your loading screen to feel unique and special, riff on your brand or product.

5. Integrate the Experience

To truly make waiting pleasurable, make your loading screen “flow” into the rest of your app. That means instead of two discrete, stand-alone experiences, it should feel like one extended experience.

Take a look at the tourism website for Bialystok, a city in Poland. The loading screen incorporates a loading percentage (technique #2) and an illustration of a man on a bicycle, pedaling furiously (technique #4).

 Tourism website for Bialystok

When the actual site shows up, you see the same man on the bicycle–now proceeding much more leisurely across your screen. This visual continuation makes me smile every time.

 Tourism website for Bialystok fully loaded
And loaded..

Illusion, a digital arts magazine, uses the same basic concept.

It’s got a low-contrast, static loading screen…

Illusion digital arts magazine,

Which transitions to a high-contrast loading screen with a GIF hero image.

Illusion loaded

Despite the different effects, notice how the placing, size, and style of the logo stay consistent. This design choice reminds me of the yin-yang symbol.

We can see a third application of the integration technique with National Geographic’s EAT: The Story of Food website.

If you judged the loading screen as a stand-alone, it wouldn’t fare very well. A small unidentified object spins in the middle of a black screen.

National Geographic's EAT: The Story of Food

However, the object doesn’t disappear when the website loads. It spins into the center, revealing itself to be an innovative “menu” (both literally and figuratively).

National Geographic's EAT: The Story of Food loaded

Each segment represents a different component of the human diet, like sugar, grains, etc. When you click on one, the same loading symbol shows up in miniature.

When you click on one, the same loading symbol shows up in miniature.

For more loading inspiration, check out 4 Tips for Using Animation in Design and 12 Creative, Clever Loading Screens.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Making Users Enjoy Waiting

What are some effective strategies to make users enjoy waiting on a website?

There are several strategies to make users enjoy waiting on a website. One of the most effective is to use creative loading animations that entertain users while they wait. Another strategy is to provide progress indicators that show users how much longer they have to wait. You can also use skeleton screens that gradually load content, giving users the impression that the website is faster than it actually is. Lastly, you can use the waiting time to educate users about your product or service, or to promote special offers.

How can I design a loading page that users will enjoy?

Designing a loading page that users will enjoy involves a combination of aesthetics and functionality. Use visually appealing graphics or animations that are relevant to your brand or the content being loaded. Make sure the loading page is responsive and loads quickly, even on slower internet connections. Also, consider using a progress bar or other visual indicators to give users a sense of progress and estimated wait time.

What are some examples of well-designed loading pages?

Some examples of well-designed loading pages include those that use creative animations, such as a spinning logo or a playful character. Others use progress bars or countdown timers to give users a sense of progress. Some loading pages also use the waiting time to provide useful information or tips to users, enhancing their overall experience.

How can I politely tell someone to wait in an email?

Telling someone to wait in an email requires tact and politeness. Start by acknowledging their request or concern, then explain the reason for the delay. Assure them that their request is being processed and give them an estimated time frame for when they can expect a response. Always end with a note of appreciation for their patience and understanding.

How can I use code to create a loading page?

Creating a loading page using code involves HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. HTML is used to structure the content, CSS is used to style it, and JavaScript is used to create animations or progress indicators. There are many online tutorials and code snippets available that can guide you through the process.

What are the benefits of a well-designed loading page?

A well-designed loading page can significantly enhance user experience. It can make waiting more enjoyable, reduce user frustration, and even increase user engagement. It can also give users the impression that your website or app is faster and more reliable, which can boost your brand image.

How can I test the effectiveness of my loading page?

You can test the effectiveness of your loading page by conducting user testing. This involves observing users as they interact with your loading page and gathering feedback. You can also use analytics tools to track user behavior and measure key metrics such as bounce rate and session duration.

How can I improve my loading page based on user feedback?

User feedback is invaluable for improving your loading page. Pay attention to what users like and dislike about your loading page, and make adjustments accordingly. For example, if users find your loading animation distracting, consider making it more subtle. If users are unsure how long they have to wait, consider adding a progress indicator.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when designing a loading page?

Some common mistakes to avoid when designing a loading page include making the loading animation too complex or distracting, not providing a progress indicator, and not optimizing the loading page for slower internet connections. Also, avoid making the loading page too different from the rest of your website or app, as this can confuse users.

How can I make the waiting time more productive for users?

You can make the waiting time more productive for users by providing useful information or tips during the wait. For example, you can use the waiting time to educate users about your product or service, or to promote special offers. You can also provide links to related content or resources that users might find interesting.

Aja FrostAja Frost
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Aja Frost is a writer, tech/design geek, and podcast addict. Check out her site or say hi on Twitter.

AlexWdelaysEarly Completionfeedbackprogress barspeed perceptionUsability
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