Is Your UI Too Fast?

June 30th, 2016   |  

Do you remember the last time you were interacting with a feature of a website, let out a deep sigh, and said – “Ugh! That loaded way too fast!”

Most likely NEVER. When the performance shortcomings of a website are discussed, they nearly always revolve around pages and features loading too slowly. Site users generally have limited patience and are relieved to find themselves using web pages that render quickly. In fact, users detest slow-loading pages so much that designers and developers will take painstaking measures to ensure that minimal loading delays are present at every turn of the production lifecycle.

You may be surprised to learn that there is a possibility of the user interface (UI) being too fast for optimal user experience. And often, when something on a site is “too fast,” the user doesn’t even realize it.

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Blinded by speed?

According to Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group, 99% of site usability problems are related to slowness, but the uncommon cases in which the UI is too fast can be just as frustrating for users. In some instances, elements on a site may change too fast and go unnoticed. When users are blind to rapid changes of displayed information or settings on the site, they may unknowingly engage with the wrong targets on the site and abandon their session in frustration.

Simply put: If your site users are missing the mark because information is rotating too quickly or interface changes are fast but barely observable, you’ve got a “speed” problem.

Consider a layout in which a site is continually polling other servers for real-time information from local news sources. As the latest batch of local stories is populated, you start reading an excerpt that interests you. Then suddenly – WHOOOSH – everything you were reading on the screen is pushed to the bottom and fresh content replaces the spot you were originally focused on.

Oooh how impressive – the site loaded all those new excerpts and images so quickly, in the blink of an eye! Unfortunately, your session was just interrupted and completely thrown off course – so what do you care about the incredible speed in this case??

User-initiated actions can save the experience

Now that you’ve been torn away from information you were actively engaged with, you’re probably frustrated. In fact, if you took your eye off the excerpt for a brief moment, around the time the content was auto-refreshed, you may not even have the faintest clue what happened. You may not even realize you have to now scroll down to retrieve the content you were previously reading.

What could have been added to this experience to prevent such a run-around? How about requiring the user take an action, such as clicking a “load new content” button, before the screen changed and new information starting popping up?

Users typically prefer to have more control of their experience, including options to select when they are ready to initiate rapid changes to an existing screen. This is the predominant reason that large platforms with live feeds – such as Facebook and Twitter – will first notify a user that new information is available and prompt their users to refresh the content at their convenience.

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This isn’t just applicable to live feeds. Also consider buttons and smart search fields that may bring up products, maps and locations, contact information for a local service representative, etc.

The site’s architecture may be perfectly capable of quickly retrieving this information from a database and loading it for the user in milliseconds. BUT – make sure the delivery of the new information is noticeable. Use a light animation and consider slowing the change to a 1-2 second visual process so that the user is fully aware that new information is now available.

Carousels and Sliders

The use of carousels and sliders on a website is a subject of complex debate, but many UI experts will argue that they can successfully be used to call attention to important topics and pages in specific circumstances.

Determining whether or not a carousel makes strategic sense often revolves around many design considerations and the target audiences. But the latest findings in UI research suggest that the speed of the carousel transitions must be taken into careful account.

Slides should be set to pause during intervals that leave the user with ample time to read the content and take an action if necessary. What exactly is “ample” time in this case? Many developers use a rule of thumb of 2.5x the time it takes them to read through the content.

However, be mindful of your target audience! For example, if you’re a 20-something relatively speedy reader that spends 5-6 hours a day performing research online, and your average user is older (say 60-70 years) and not as internet savvy, you’ll probably find a significant discrepancy in time necessary for comfortably reading content presented on a screen. Make sure the time multiplier is applied to your audience – NOT to some random demographic.

As slides are gradually presented, they should also come to a complete stop when a user hovers over them. This is not the time to show off your carousel and website’s cool transitional effects. Users will grow quite frustrated if they’re in the process of deciding to take an action and the path to continue forward is suddenly whisked away from them.

Speed is GOOD. . . just be careful

It’s worth restating that slow performance is a far more common problem than a site changing or loading content too quickly. But as developers crank out lighter code, servers become more powerful, and ISP’s deliver faster and more reliable bandwidth – website builders also need to be cognizant of elements that can be too fast for a user’s experience.

Create transitional effects that are noticeable. When content can be rapidly loaded or changed, provide your users with the ability to initiate the effects when they are ready. If you do choose to use carousels or sliders on your site, give your audience adequate time to read the content and take the next step.

Remember: If your “speedy” site only brings about confusion and frustration, all the effort you’ve put into establishing a fast, friendly user experience may go unrecognized by your users.

Need help evaluating your websites UI performance? Give us a call at 248-687-7888, we specialize in all things web.

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