Looking fast beats being fast

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July 28, 2016
Looking fast beats being fast.
You’d be forgiven if you thought that you had to design your clients’ websites to be fast all the time. After all, in modern, UX best practices, a site has to be fast to reduce the bounce rate, keep site visitors engaged, and keep them coming back. Users don’t like slow sites because everyone’s used to things getting faster on the web. If they have to wait five seconds for a news site to load, but a comparable news site will load pages in just two seconds, you can bet that the faster site will get the visitors. [pullquote]For your…site to please visitors…it doesn’t have to be fast, it just has to feel fast[/pullquote] However, one very curious aspect of web design is that perception is reality. For your client’s site to please visitors and retain them, it doesn’t have to be fast, it just has to feel fast. Understanding this distinction can empower you to design sites with great UX and engaged visitors. Here’s how…

Why fast sites matter

It’s not just me saying that fast sites are highly desirable—the data says it too. Moz says that you can improve the conversion rates of the sites you design for your clients if you make them fast. Case studies bear this out, too: Mobile webpages that are only as much as one second faster than other pages see a 27% boost in their conversion rates. That can be huge from a sales perspective! Clearly, when sites are faster, visitors stick around longer, become more engaged with your content, and then convert at higher rates. [pullquote]What matters is your visitor’s experience, which is dependent on their perception[/pullquote] But visitors don’t sit at their screens with a stopwatch checking the speed of your landing page, no one but you is measuring the actual speed of your site. What matters is your visitor’s experience, which is dependent on their perception.

Skeleton screens

What’s a skeleton screen? A skeleton screen is a blank webpage that gradually fills up with content as the page finishes loading. Skeleton screens are an intelligent and effective alternative to techniques like progress bars or spinners, which trials show create a perception of a slow page load. Google’s product director, Luke Wroblewski, conducted a case study where he used spinners for a native app’s interface that he was working on. Each time a page loaded, users were greeted with the spinners, which displayed loading progress. The result was that users thought the app was actually slower than prior versions. This can be explained by the fact that progress bars and spinners call users’ attention to the load process—which creates a perception of slowness. On the other hand, techniques like skeleton screens call users’ attention to the fact that the page is gradually filling up with content and therefore showing them real progress. By focusing on the actual progress instead of the wait time, skeletons screens make your visitors and users feel like your site is faster already.

Changing up site colors

Colors also have a great impact on the perception of your site’s speed on your visitors. You can make your users think that your site is loading quite fast based on the color that you choose when the page is loading. Choose a relaxing color, and your users feel that your site is actually faster than it is. According to the Journal of Marketing Research (via Adobe) if you want to make page loading time feel quicker use the color blue on the page while a download is occurring. There are also other dimensions to color, such as chroma and brightness. The former is a color’s saturation or pigmentation while the latter is the tint that a color appears to have. [pullquote]brightness…has the most impact on…users’ perception of site speed[/pullquote] Research indicates that low-chroma colors (those that are more subdued) relax users and therefore make them perceive a site as faster. On the brightness side, high-value colors appear as though they’ve been mixed with white; we generally call those pastels. These high-value colors produce more relaxed feelings in your users, therefore helping your site’s perception as fast. In fact, brightness is the factor that has the most impact on improving users’ perception of site speed. It should also be noted that research also indicates that more relaxed users in general deliver more positive outcomes for sites, such as more conversions, likes, and shares.

Calls to Action

Simply put, the way you use the call to action on your page can significantly impact how your visitors perceive your site’s speed. For example, if your call to action is buried down at the bottom of a long landing or sales page, so small and hard to read that it takes people a while to find it, or not seamlessly supported by the information architecture on the page, then it will take people longer to find it. When it takes visitors a longer time to see your call to action, then it can definitely feel that your site is slower than it is. After all, put yourself in the user’s shoes, they land on your page and are trying to make sense of the goal of said page. When they don’t immediately see the call to action button, it’s going to confuse them and take him a while to make sense of what’s going on, which all contributes to a heavy feeling of a slower site. Therefore, when designing a call to action for a page, incorporate it seamlessly as part of the main page element. For example, Kayak does this well on its car rentals page. At a glance, users can tell that the page’s call to action (the search button) is an integral part of the main page element, which is the search bar for car rentals. As a result, they’re able to quickly understand the whole point and purpose of the site.

Sites that only feel fast still deliver awesome UX

Designers need to always follow the main rule in web design: Design for user experience. One of the best ways to do this is to design for site speed, but, knowing the psychology and behavior of your visitors, you can also design your site to merely feel fast as opposed to actually being blazingly fast. Don’t treat this as an alternative to building a fast site. While a fast site can be made to feel slow, it’s a lot easier to make a site feel fast if it actually is. Ultimately, what matters is user perception.

Marc Schenker

Marc’s a copywriter who covers design news for Web Designer Depot. Find out more about him at thegloriouscompanyltd.com.

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