Digital Patience Or…Mastering the Art of Waiting: A Look Into the Psychology Behind Digital Load Times
Discover the power of patience in the digital world! In this blog, we’ll dive into the psychology of waiting, exploring how delays in load times can impact sales, traffic, and the user experience. From Amazon and Google experiments to the strategies of airports and elevators, come explore how “time is money” in the digital realm. Don’t forget to share this exploration of app-loading, spinning wheels, and download times with your tech-curious friends!
- Perception of time
- Visualizing waiting
- Skeleton screens
- Future of waiting
Explore the psychology of waiting in the digital era. Learn about the impact of delay on the user experience, drawing from experiments by Amazon, Google, and innovative strategies from non-tech sectors.
If you’re a habitual user of digital platforms, be it a smartphone, a laptop, or anything digital, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the long-winded drama of waiting! Waiting for games to load, waiting for websites to come alive—the never-ending suspense as Instagram decides when it’s the right time to unveil your friends’ zesty exploits in Ibiza.
Waiting is an inescapable fragment wedged interminably into digital products. Here’s a shocker: how these products manage us during the wait is more crucial than the wait itself!
When Every Millisecond Matters
Take Amazon’s experiment a decade ago. They discerned that by incorporating a scant 100 milliseconds into their website’s latency, they were instantly forfeiting 1% in sales! [^1^] Similarly, Google experimented and came to the lightning-quick realisation that a mere 0.5-second increment in load time leads to a savage 20% loss of all traffic. Therefore, in the digital realm, time indeed equates to money.
“Google found out that by only adding a 0.5 second increase to their load time, they lost a 20% drop in all traffic.”
A curious example from the physical world underscores this concept brilliantly. Some years ago, the Houston airport found itself embroiled in a maelstrom of complaints about protracted wait times at the baggage claim. The airport hurriedly recruited extra staff to tackle the waiting game, only for the chorus of complaints to go unabated. Rethinking their strategy entirely, they decided to make the baggage claim as far removed from the aeroplane as possible, causing people to walk six times longer, giving enough time for the airport staff to get the bags ready.
Lo and behold, the deluge of complaints plunged to near-zero![^2^] If that doesn’t convince you enough of the salience of effectively managing wait times, nothing will!
The Evolution of Digital Waiting
It’s not just a physical space where the art of waiting has been manipulated to manage customer expectations. In the 1970s, the dawning era of computing, the first thing people devised was to tell the users how long they had to wait. However, this lacks precision as network speeds fluctuate, algorithms vary largely, and device performance might suffer slowdown due to conflicting applications [^3^].
Thomas Scott details those fraught last seconds of a seemingly frozen progress bar in an enlightening video so check that out on Youtube. The reality is that setting an expectation and failing to deliver, even by a mere second, fractures the trust users place in the app. In the fast-paced digital world of today, interaction with websites and apps is fleeting and demands immediate loading of content.
So what’s the perfect solution for this issue as old as time (or computers, at least)?
Well, have a look at the object you may have sworn at earlier in the day for its incessant spinning—the notorious rotating wheel!
Digital Skumorphism and the Evolution of Waiting Indicators
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, we utilised an approach called skumorphism in user interfaces, which involved mimicking the real world to lend meaning to the digital area [^4^]. With the progress in technology, we moved away from skumorphic designs to minimalistic and sleek ones with queue in the spinning wheels, revolving circles, and the like, denoting loading.
We’re constantly running into this spinning wheel in our day-to-day digital interactions, but despite its ubiquity, the spinning wheel does a lousy job. For starters, it limits interactions with the interface until the loading completes, and the abrupt change from loading to a loaded screen also jars the user. The spinning wheel focuses on the wait, not on what’s coming up.
For users eager for just a part of the next screen, they’ve got another thing coming, because you have to wait till everything’s loaded. The status quo of the spinning wheel was disrupted in 2014 by a consultant presenting the novel concept of skeleton loaders. Every big tech company, including Netflix, LinkedIn, Google Photos, and YouTube, has latched on to this trend, and you’ve probably experienced it too [^5^].
Skeleton loaders take the form of grey outlines, animated or static, of content in the process of loading. Their structure allows parts to load independently, permitting users to interact with the part of the page they need rather than waiting for the whole thing. It’s an immensely pragmatic strategy that focuses not on the wait but on what’s to emerge next while also letting the user interact with the page in real-time.
For Google Photos’ users, as an example, looking for that one specific image means they can click on it and wait just for that to load [^6^].
The Future of Loading
It might sound logical to think that future technology will solve waiting times for good, right?
As we see it, the more advanced our chips and networks, the more tasks we want to accomplish with them. From upgrading from 1080p to 4K to needing high computational power for future innovations like AR (Augmented Reality).
Even with advanced devices, waiting will exist because handling human impatience is a challenge that we have to deal with forever. We’ll always find a way to complain about our next-generation gadgets being too slow, even if they are 300-core, 70-terabyte, or 8G smart AR glasses! [^7^]
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[^1^]: Amazon website latency [^2^]: Houston airport baggage claim [^3^]: Application conflict [^4^]: User interface skumorphism
[^5^]: Skeleton loaders [^6^]: Google photos [^7^]: Next-generation gadgets
In the digital world, waiting is a crucial aspect that affects user experience significantly. It has been found that incremental additions to the waiting time can lead to significant losses in sales or traffic for companies like Amazon and Google. The psychological aspect of waiting is demonstrated through methods like moving baggage claims further from planes to give the perception of shorter wait times or adding mirrors to elevators to keep people occupied.
Initially, telling users how long they have to wait was seen as a solution but with changing network speeds, device slow-downs and the challenge in defining wait times, it created more problems than expected. Now, most of the digital interfaces use a spinning wheel to signify loading time, limiting the interaction until completion. But this emphasizes the aspect of waiting.
A new concept, skeleton loaders, has been seen to create the perception of faster and more responsive apps and websites. These skeleton loaders show gray outlines of the content that is being loaded, putting the focus on what’s to come. Despite advancements in technology, managing human impatience remains a challenge that will persist indefinitely as the computing tasks themselves become harder with increasing expectations for instantaneous results.
Image concept developed by the author
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