When it comes to technology, faster isn’t always better.
It’s true that 47 percent of people want web pages to load in two seconds or less (and 40 percent abandon sites that take three seconds to load). But when load times drop significantly below that two-second threshold, users start to get skeptical.
To understand why, put yourself in the shoes of someone checking his credit score. In the past, he may have spent hours on the phone to get even one bureau’s credit report. Now, using an app, he can get all three reports in mere seconds with just a few taps.
Yes, the app is fast, and yes, from an objective perspective, it’s user-friendly. Its designers clearly did their homework. But does he trust the app’s results? Is it a scam? Did the program really gather all three reports, check them for errors, and present them in a matter of seconds?
No way, he might think. Given his past experience, he’d be perfectly reasonable in thinking that the app couldn’t possibly have done it that quickly.
When Slower Software Works
In most cases, a speedy user experience makes sense. Optimization is important, and frankly, most sites need more of it, not less.
But there are certain situations in which a slower UX can actually increase user trust and engagement. Consider slowing your software in order to:
1. Create Security Theater
When you fly, the Transportation Security Administration’s job isn’t just to make you safer; it’s also to make you feel safer. This same labor of illusion is what made you confident when filing your taxes with TurboTax earlier this year. Intuit created fake animated loading bars that show that it triple-checking your returns for errors even though it actually does so along the way.
Slowing down this stressful process tells users that TurboTax is working hard for them and that they can trust it with sensitive information. Facebook provides random security checks for a similar reason: By drawing attention to something that’s already happening behind the scenes, Facebook gives users confidence that their data is secure.
When, exactly, should you provide a security-show slowdown? One might be in order if the user has provided sensitive information (such as a social security number or home address), paid money to use your service, or engaged deeply with it.
For example, imagine a home-finding startup. Rather than you doing the legwork of finding the perfect home, the startup’s app handles it for you. Because it costs money and requires personal information, it’s imperative that it slow the process down. In order to build trust, the app should explain why it needs your sensitive data, how it will use that information, and assure you that it will keep your information safe. A free messaging app, on the other hand, needs no such slowdown. Its goal is merely to gain and keep its users through a seamless experience with the least number of barriers.
2. Educate Users About Modern Tech Speeds
Thanks to Moore’s Law and the maturation of connected devices, many modern technology products are fast and efficient with little perceived latency. Mobile computing and network speeds are remarkably quick compared to even five years ago.
But with so many users accustomed to spotty internet service, old technologies, and buggy software, fast operating speeds can cause them to worry about whether your product is working correctly. Wells Fargo’s eye scan technology, for example, was so quick that users didn’t believe it was doing what it said it was. The developers artificially slowed the process by strategically including scanning and authenticating progress bars.
Slowing your product to match user expectations should, however, be a stopgap solution. Look for opportunities to educate users on today’s software speeds. Within the product itself, explain how your software is faster than ever.
Facebook, again, provides an illustrative example. Ever notice how it pushes temporary notifications into your newsfeed following a product update? Each update mentions how Facebook is constantly working hard to improve the platform’s speed.
In your own product, take it one step further and include a call to action to allow users to provide feedback. Have an FAQ ready (or, even better, live support) to respond to this feedback and help users understand what’s really happening behind the scenes of your software.
3. Work Within System Constraints
Keep in mind that not all devices are connected to fast internet providers. Your product’s users might be of modest means or live in rural areas, or your own server infrastructure might not be up to snuff.
Either way, progress indicators such as loading bars can remind users that your product is still working on their request. For example, FirstRand Bank Limited of South Africa baked an artificial progress bar into its web interface. Because its infrastructure is outdated and slow, information can’t be displayed as quickly as it could, say, in Wells Fargo’s app.
Again, consider the user’s experience. If you’re a FirstRand customer staring at a blank screen for 15 seconds after clicking a button, wouldn’t you try checking your connection and refreshing the request? Unfortunately, these actions only make the bottleneck worse.
A fake loading bar might not be the ideal solution, but it’s better than providing no feedback at all. Animation to show that your software is handling the user’s request provides relief for both your servers and your users.
Speeding Up or Slowing Down?
All this talk of slowing down software requires some historical context. System limitations and users’ past experiences may be slowing things down, but on the whole, technology is pushing toward faster user experiences.
The more time that elapses, the more long-term tech users we’ll have. The more long-term tech users become accustomed to instantaneous results, the less UX designers will need to slow down their technologies. The faster technologies work — and, importantly, work correctly — the more users will trust them. Meanwhile, younger generations without the preconceived notions of their parents will grow into adults who are accustomed to seamless technological experiences.
Older generations who aren’t comfortable with technology still exist, however, and two people of different demographics rarely have the same comfort levels with the same technologies. Today, intentionally slowing down certain product scenarios can help older users feel comfortable with what’s happening to their data.
When slow systems (by today’s standards) are gone and people are used to instantaneous results, how much systems reveal to us about their back-end operations may become a question of personal freedom. As humans, we want to feel in control. Choices are comforting.
Ultimately, speed is important, but so is matching users’ expectations. No matter how fast we move into the future, slowing down will never go out of style.