Fang Talks

silent but deadly
10 12 14

Perceived speed

Because letting your users know what’s up is better than leaving them in the dark.

For some time now, a decent chunk of UX (user experience) talk has been about “perceived speed”, how fast users think an action is, instead of how well it actually performs. Flawed example: Say you’re displaying a slideshow, but the next image always takes half a second to load. If you jump to the next picture only once it’s been downloaded, then the action of “next” appears to take half a second. An improved version might make the current image start fading away a quarter of a second into the loading, and then fade in the next image once that’s done. Yes, that means it takes a quarter of a second longer to display the new image in earnest, but your user’s already seeing things happen after a quarter of a second. “Oh my, it’s working!”

Something about this is confusing me though, especially cases similar to my flawed example. In essence we’re keeping the user engaged with fancy animations and cool effects (ie amusing animated loading bar) for the duration of our processing. Articles on perceived speed then go on to say how those things make users perceive your page, app or whatever as faster and more responsive.
But when a user says “it’s faster” because something’s happening instead of just some (flat, boring, “nothing seems to be happening”) waiting time between state A and state B, isn’t that just the user being technology illiterate to a certain degree, because “if it moves it must be done already” or something similar?

This doesn’t apply to most cases, and yes, I know, human psychology plays a much more significant role in this. I do still wonder though, how much of the perceived performance increase is made up of the effect I just described. Nothing I’ve read has touched on that, which seems a bit odd to me. Then again, those aren’t really concerns you take in mind when doing UX design.

Any experts in the crowd that could tell me more? Yes, you in the back? What are you even doing here, I have nothing to teach you.
~ Fang

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