Our Need for Speed

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Our Need for Speed

Back in 1993, Jakob Nielsen published an article entitled, “Response Times: The 3 Important Limits.” His research was ground breaking and impacted computer software design for years to come.

In ’93, there were 623 websites on the entire internet, primarily used by scientists and scholars. Most Americans were blissfully unaware of the Internet, or the “information super highway” as we called it for a spell. 1993 seems like a long time ago. For those that track time by movies, ’93 debuted Jurassic Park (the original film), Schindler’s List and Sandlot. Do you feel old yet? I do, especially when you rewatch those classics today. The color grading, resolution and fashion seems so dated. But, it’s not fair to lump Nielsen’s research in that same bucket, of “so dated”. The 3 important limits he writes about are human limits. It is dictated by biology, not technology. Our fashion may have evolved since 1993, but people are still people. Here are the 3 limits Jakob published:

  1. 0.1 second is near the limit for having the user feel that the system is reacting instantaneously.
  2. 1.0 second is near the limit for the user’s flow of thought to stay uninterrupted, even though the user will notice the delay.
  3. 10 seconds is 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.

These numbers provide guideposts for what is acceptable and what isn’t on websites.

Today, our culture is obsessed with speed. We drive fast cars, eat at quick serve restaurants and cook instant rice. We want everything now. Coupled with our increasing lack of attention, it is safe to say that waiting is not our strength. When it comes to websites, speed matters. This applies to how quickly content loads and how fast the website reacts to a user’s action. There are a couple ways we can address slow websites. We can look at the technical aspects that effect the speed of the website. There are lots of technical reasons why a website can be slow.

  • Server performance
  • Server location
  • Too many server requests
  • Tons of traffic
  • Super large images
  • Graphics that contain text
  • Outdated file formats
  • Dense code
  • Too many plugins
  • Outdated CMS

After reading that list, if you thought, we can’t change servers/platforms. You’re not alone. While they contribute to the speed of a website, they are more involved to manage or change depending on your company’s structure, policies, contractual agreements and your skillset. Let’s focus on two elements in that list that are easier to impact. They are the images and code. By optimizing both we can reduce the amount of data the site needs to download. Thus, speeding up the experience. The second approach is to change the user’s perception of how long it is taking to load the content.

Web page loading animation

Loading graphics, like the one shown above, let the user know something is happening. But, it only sets the user’s expectation that they’ll need to wait. It often fails to hold their attention. A better approach is to animate an element while they wait. This adds an element of delight, has a greater chance of holding their attention and helps distinguish the website’s brand.

Moving progress bar for a web page

Awesome loading animation courtesy of Doren Chapman, Motion Art Director at Marlin Network.

fast site is a good user experience, and a satisfying experience leads to higher conversions. Google knows this and is pushing businesses to take action to increase the speed of their websites. They are encouraging this speed by changing the way they show search results. The new metric they are judging on is mobile speed. If your competitors have a faster mobile website, they’ll show up ahead of you. This is from Google’s blog:

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

If your website is needing a speed boost, our talented team of user experience experts and developers are ready to diagnosis and treat your site. Tell us about your project.

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