Fast Web, Slow Web

by Mike on October 2, 2013

Whoa, pardner!

Whoa, pardner!

We all know that website speed is critical to success – faster sites make happier users.

But what if the converse is also true? What if instant is too fast? The half-jokingly named “Slow Web Movement” advocates for the occasional slow interaction, trading the instantaneous buzz and blink for some (metaphorical) peace and quiet. Some web interfaces are just too fast for their own good.

We’re already seeing successes with this approach. Slow Web has already seen some initial successes. IDoneThis even shifted team communication at Twitter to daily email.

Something important is at play here – the tuning of the computer-generated web interface to human cycle speed. Fast Web and Slow Web are really two sides of the same coin.

Computers should behave like an advanced version of planet Earth

Time is one of the most important dimensions of user interface. It was shunted aside for years because it isn’t captured in a screenshot. But time is at the core of all our perceptions. Just think how life worked before the past hundred years.

Time proceeded smoothly in our ancestors’ world, the world we were built for. Nothing blinked and the occasional surprise like a charging mammoth was worth heeding carefully. Anxious waiting was also rare. Life moseyed along, but everyone could read the pace in trees budding or moons waxing.

We humans innately prefer design that’s similar to the world we once knew: muted colors, controls with “physical” inertia, and speeds that sync to our senses.

Matching time to the physical realm

So how do you align with people time?

Slow Web means carefully searching and designing for spots where delays are needed in human-computer interaction. It’s important, but requires the rare artist/technologist to suss out all the issues.

Fast Web is much simpler. Clean up wait times and the randomness also becomes imperceptible. No need to understand the pace when it’s pronto. So these fast page loads salve user anxiety.

While implementation requires expertise and sometimes money, the Fast Web goal is clear – quicker loads. And if you nail user happiness, expect to be rewarded with increased engagement and revenue.

Perception is user interface reality

There’s no such thing as “too fast” in the Fast Web world – instant response time only removes the stutter that plagues the web experience. However, there are many sites and pages where speed is unimportant. There’s art in balancing Fast Web against other business concerns like cost, agility, and slow-but-useful content.

Perception is user interface reality, so keep perceived time front and center. It’s clear that one second response time is the limit for seamless thought, but less obvious where users really care. Since time’s subjective to your customers, measure speed sensitivity via dollar spend in your analytics package to focus your efforts. Ultimately, Real User Measurement grants the power to convert the squishy world of psychology into the hard numbers of finance and engineering. Let it guide your hand when you unleash the speedtech wizardry.

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