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#11 - Response Time Guidelines

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Article written by
Juan Jesús Millo

Writing of the week

First of all, say that these principles are not determined by the system itself, or by the casuistry of the moment, but by how our brain works. These times come from Robert Miller's study in 1968 (.pdf) and will remain the same for a long time.

We can classify the response times into four sections, 0.1 second, 1 second, 10 seconds and unknown.

  • 0.1 second

Time in which the system reacts instantly to our interactions, so we feel that we are directly manipulating the interface (interaction where we receive instant feedback when interacting virtually or physically).

Components such as dropdowns or sliders must fall into this category, or else we will believe that it is the system that interacts with us based on what we are telling it.

When the output is received in less than 1 second, we will still think that the system is acting in real time and that we are in control without losing patience, but everything that happens in the second will be transformed into a sense of blockage.

In this range, the delay that is generated leads to think that the system is working to give us an answer. The purpose of every website is that each page loads in less than this time, but there is still a long way to go before those stakeholders see a ROI in terms of improving the loading speed.

Maximum time that a user feels within the interaction flow, since from this time on, users lose track of the task they were completing.

The feedback on what the system is doing is critical here in order to provide transparency on why so much time is needed. Anything that exceeds this limit is a serious block. The user here feels stuck so the probability of him leaving is very high (except for major flows such as hotel reservations or final ecommerce steps).

  • +10 seconds or undetermined

Starting from a broken flow, we must tell the user what is happening so that he knows what he can do while the process is ending. The main component here is the progress bar, with the following advantages:

  • It offers transparency in telling us that the system is not broken.
  • It tells us how long it can take to finish this process (will it give me time to make a coffee or will it give me time to do my shopping or take a shower?)
  • It is something we can entertain ourselves with. In this case, the role of creating animated loaders becomes especially important, something cute and funny, related to the brand or even some kind of mini-game.

If we don't know how long it will take, we can continue offering transparency in another way, like indicating how many system steps have been completed (for example, if we eliminate a batch of 150 rows from a table, the system will indicate how many rows it has eliminated with respect to the total), accompanying the text with an infinite loader.

One thing to say is that if a process takes between 2 and 10 seconds, we must be careful with the principle of display inertia, which tells us that we must minimize the changes to only what is necessary, avoiding losing context, having to reload the entire screen, or creating unnecessary flashes, can you imagine that the page has to load completely when we click/tap on a dropdown?

We can minimize this by using infinite loaders and indicating the percentage of progress in a non-intrusive way, while only showing the part that has been updated, so that the user interprets only the relevant update with respect to the original context.

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