the mysteries of page load

As I read through Understanding How Users View Application Preformance one thing was very clear to me. Not […]

As I read through Understanding How Users View Application Preformance one thing was very clear to me. Not all pages are created equal. The article author was attempting to determine how long a page should take to load for a user to be satisfied, and tried to reconcile all the different information on this, from IBM’s one second rule for application response to forester’s 30 second rule for page load to Spool’s studies on perceived load time.

What if they are all right? A page that is an article is not the same as a page that is part of a application process in the eye of the user, even if they are made of the same raw materials–html. When you are in the middle of a process… perhaps setting up an apointment in an online calendar or editing an address in an online mail program… waiting between steps is excrutiating.

But when you are shopping or reading an article, asking for a page of data and waiting for it is far less painful.

In my experience a user would rather wait for a page that holds all they need to know– fabric swatches, size choices, etc– than have to click through many small pages to get the same infomartion.

That changes again upon checkout, when you are hoping to speed through the task and the same 20 second wait to see all the chino choices you didn’t mind before suddenly seems an eternity as you go from shipping address to billing address.

This obviously has repercussions for design. Multipage tasks should be composed of sleek fast loading pages; information pages are worth waiting and should hold all the information a user seeks.


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  1. 1
    Jared Spool

    You’re absolutely right and probably very wrong.

    I think that the answer lies in Gestalt theory. Perception of download time probably plays into a figure and ground distinction. What time is spent wasted versus utilized? Which is the figure, which is the ground?

    Our studies show that perception of download time changes based on activity. More importantly, it seems to change based on the user’s perception of ongoing success.

    I don’t agree with the author’s theory on Having sat through those sessions, users were just overly frustrated with Gestalt theorists Lewin & Ziegarnik, two of my personal heroes in Field Theory, found that negative experiences dramatically change people’s perceptions of the event. They remember more, they emote more, and they critique more.

    There’s an issue of value. When I’m choosing which product I want, the investment in time is of value to me. When I’ve decided to buy the product and going through the checkout process, the investment isn’t of benefit to me — I don’t get any less value from a 10 second checkout than a 10 minute checkout.

    All of these factors blend together. Personally, I think that thinking in terms of ‘acceptable time to load’ is the wrong problem to solve. Thinking in terms of ‘providing value’ is much more productive.

  2. 2

    It’s true that page load time and expectations differ depending on the content. What people will and won’t wait for is the key.

    I’ll wait longer for a page to load that I’m interested in…but not for a page that’s trying to interest me (that I may or may not want to see). But there’s also a limit to the time I’ll wait for a page that does interest me.

    Although it would be nice to get all the info at once [a page that holds all they need to know– fabric swatches, size choices, etc– ], if it’s going to take a long time to load, it should be divided and organized. I don’t want to go to order a server and have to wait a looooong time to get a page with all the server products on it (all with large photos of the servers). I’d like to go to a page that holds a subset of servers (divided into rack-mounted, small, med,large, etc) that has the basic stats and smaller pictures. Once I view and compare servers that are similar, I’d like to be able to go to a page that gives the details of the individual product (with the larger pictures).

  3. 3
    Ken Meltsner

    If you look at the original human factors work in this area, (reference in storage — Newell?) we have roughly 3 levels of response time:

    0.1 sec for an action to appear continuous

    1.0 sec for an action to appear “immediate”

    10 sec before the user loses his/her train of thought.

    So, different pages have different needs. A pop-up help item should be (at worst) visible in 1 second, or it won’t seem connected to the item you clicked. A complete help system better show up in

  4. 4

    How long should a page take to load

    Christina has written a very interesting entry on how long it should take for a page to load – yet another ‘rule’ for which there is no real answer: the mysteries of page load…

  5. 5
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