Mask Interaction Delays with Progress Indicators

Waiting is the worst it can be annoying, distressing, even just painful, whether it’s on the phone or in a physical line or waiting for a page to load. It’s no fun. In fact, our own Don Norman has written about the psychology of waiting lines.

In the digital context, progress indicators are big help with waiting. They tell users that the system needs more time to process that last user action, and sometimes they’ll even tell us about how much time left. It’s hardly a new concept, but it’s worth reiterating because this is a human need that isn’t going to change anytime soon. There are a few kinds of progress indicators that we tend to see. The first is looped animation. This is your classic spinner. It’s probably what you think of when you think of a way animation, anything that is a simple animation that just replays continuously such that you never notice the start or the end. That’s what we’re talking about. A lot of companies today will actually use branded spinners where part of the company logo is bouncing or twirling around. That’s fine as long as it conveys to users that the system is still working. Use these animations for the shortest wait times, like any responses that are going to take up to a few seconds any longer than that. And people might start to question whether or not the system is stuck in. Another type of common progress indicator is the percent done animation. This is an animation with a clear start and end point. It might be a bar or some other shape that fills to completion, thus conveying how much time left until the system has finished.

Note here that these are best for longer wait times when people will actually have the time while they’re waiting to be able to follow along with that progress.

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