"Acceptable" download/performance time on flash sites?

15 Apr 2008 - 11:08am
6 years ago
14 replies
1457 reads
Janna DeVylder
2006

Hi all,

I'm currently working on a flash-heavy 'experiential' site, where the flash
is mostly concentrated in areas of light information and entertainment
rather than utility/functional sections.
For some sections, there is some loading that needs to happen before a
motion sequence/transition into a section begins.
The question keeps coming up about how long people are willing to wait for
something to load. Is there such a thing as an acceptable load time?
I'm not sure how to quantify this without saying, "It depends...", since
many would be willing to wait a while if they knew what they were getting at
the end of it.

Does anyone have general rules of thumb to share?

many thanks,
janna

Comments

15 Apr 2008 - 4:00pm
Leandro Alves
2008

First of all, you need to involver the user. Nobody will wait if the
content loading isn't interesting or important to them. So, make
sure that the loading content is something that user needs.

If possible, skip it. One option is to insert a "skip transition"
button, so the user don't need to wait the loading. Another option
is to load one content in the background, while the user see other
one.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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15 Apr 2008 - 4:48pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

>
> Does anyone have general rules of thumb to share?
>

1. Make sure the content is worth waiting for
2. Make sure the user knows what s/he's waiting for so s/he can decide
whether or not to do so
3. Design a loading piece that makes the wait appear shorter than it is

This last one can be done in a huge number of ways—for example, you can use
the loading animation as a branding opportunity by incorporating brand marks
in an interesting and entertaining way. Even a very simple animation can
make a wait seem shorter, even if it technically takes longer to load than
it would without the animation (Mr. Spool has some great slides that
illustrate this).

-r-

15 Apr 2008 - 5:31pm
Itamar Medeiros
2006

Another "trick" I usually do is to compare the loading time, how
long the animation will last, in relation to how big is the flash
file:

-Depending on the users bandwidth, you wouldn't have to make them
wait for the whole animation to be loaded before playing: you could
have it play once "x" % of the flash file is loaded; that's what
Quicktime and other streaming players do.

Flash doesn't do that automatically, so you would to make some
estimation of the loading time in relation to the average user
bandwith.

--
{ Itamar Medeiros } Information Designer
designing clear, understandable communication by
caring to structure, context, and presentation
of data and information

website ::: http://designative.info/
mobile ::: 86 13671503252
skype ::: designative

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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15 Apr 2008 - 4:44pm
Pat Gargiulo
2008

It may be a good idea to include additional content and/or interactive
imagery onto the page so that even if the main content is loading, the
user still has something to view while waiting.

Otherwise, Leandro's comment holds true. Adding a "Skip" button
gives the user(s) the option to bypass the loading section if they
chose to do so.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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15 Apr 2008 - 8:39pm
bschultheiss
2008

quote: 2. Make sure the user knows what s/he's waiting for so s/he
can decide whether or not to do so

Dont forget SWF is a streaming file format, so you can show certain
parts of the content while waiting for others to load to help the
user understand what it is that they are waiting for.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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17 Apr 2008 - 9:19am
johnwromano
2008

Try eliminating the wait altogether by using some smart load
techniques. Use the downtimes where users are not downloading
anything to download the next part of your application in the
background. Remember that your browser caches SWFs.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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17 Apr 2008 - 9:42pm
joreel
2008

Robert is right!! Make sure that the content is worth waiting for.

Add some interactive to your site while their are waiting...

Such as a simple mind games.. or a transition of images.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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19 Apr 2008 - 9:14am
Bruno Figueiredo
2007

I would suggest you to put up a static version of what they're
waiting to load with a loading bar on top. That way users get a
general sense of what's to come and if it's worth it or not. Kinda
of what we did back in the days with no broadband where we used
lowres versions of the images to be loaded.

About the willingness to wait, frustration hits at about 10 seconds.
Users will only wait longer than that if they perceive the content to
be really worth it. User testing won't really do for this since test
users usually have a higher tolerance for waiting than real users.

If you put it up live, watch for top exit pages in your logs, if
they're leaving the content rich pages, you need to decrease the
loading times.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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19 Apr 2008 - 9:33am
SemanticWill
2007

" I'm currently working on a flash-heavy 'experiential' site, where the
flash
is mostly concentrated in areas of light information and entertainment
rather than utility/functional sections."

One thing I would caution against - and I have heard/seen this over and over
to the point of annoyance, is the assumption that flash=experiential, or
more specifically, visual flash designers and marketing/advertising agencies
that do flash-heavy sites equating flash UI with a "rich user experience."
The two are not equal. The two are not synonymous. Animated transitions,
variable opacity and sliding text blocks does not a rich user experience
make. A rich user experience is the holistic totality of the user
interaction with the system/website/product or service. It is the music in
starbucks, the waiting time in an emergency room (not just the competence of
the doctor), it is getting a customer service person on the phone without 15
selections ("press 1 for English, press 4 to not be annoyed, press 6 to give
up").

Why do I seemingly state the obvious - because by saying that flash
interfaces are rich user experiences, it unknowingly argues that ajax/xhtml,
javascript dom are not, and further - when I read "experiential" as
describing an interface - my immediate thought is that the site is "fluff"
-- no content, no usefulness, no meat. Flash and html are simply the medium
- though this medium does carry a message. Choosing the medium matters, but
should not at the expense of the message. (Sorry Marshall!).

But to the point - I think about the beautiful, artistic site done for VW UK
(http://www.vw.co.uk), which has transitions, faceted navigation, some
clearly thought out information architecture. Really well done - but for one
flaw - every page transition requires a 10-15 second "loading" dialog -- and
the content behind it doesn't justify the time waiting. Especially since
absolutely no aspect of the UI couldn't be done with xhtml/ajax without the
loading - without the wait. The totality of the experience matters - and
loading dialogs - as much as 10-15, sometimes 20 seconds between "pages"
significantly decreases the enjoyment of the experience. So when choosing a
front end platform - ask specifically what is the cost to the user, and what
is the benefit. In the VW site - there is zero benefit to having gone with
flash (from a users perspective) -- and a hole car-load of cost.

--
~ will

"Where you innovate, how you innovate,
and what you innovate are design problems"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Will Evans | User Experience Architect
tel +1.617.281.1281 || wkevans4 at gmail.com
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

19 Apr 2008 - 10:35am
Bruno Figueiredo
2007

I agree with Will. The mouse pointer is kind of a digital extension to
your arm. I think it reflects more what users are thinking since they
can understand what's hot or not by hovering the pointer on top of
it.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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20 Apr 2008 - 4:47am
Troy Gardner
2008

It's all about managing expectations, by default I consider 2-3
seconds of perceived waiting max, anything longer should be choose
your own adventure (e.g. low res, high fi) and or using bandwidth
detection to autoroute.

high experience is engaging the user in a seamless narrative and or
flow state. 'don't make me think'. Transitions properly used are
supposed to smooth over the annoying 'blink'/refresh of html apps, but
having to wait to download the transition is worse than the html
'blink!'. It's not that hard to use something simple, fade to
white/black, slides, an already preloaded interstitial, a tear down
animation while the next piece is loading in.

ajax/html are no better or worse than flash in creating a rich
experience, though typically they are cheaper/faster to develop text
centric apps. It's largely how well the interactive team timeslices
information, packaging it for streaming so that it's always preloading
in the background of engaging a user, and doing bandwidth detection to
route them to the appropriate experience. Often due to the way
creative types get creative, this is much harder discipline than I
would like.

Troy

20 Apr 2008 - 4:22pm
Will Parker
2007

On Apr 19, 2008, at 7:14 AM, Bruno Figueiredo wrote:

> I would suggest you to put up a static version of what they're
> waiting to load with a loading bar on top. That way users get a
> general sense of what's to come and if it's worth it or not. Kinda
> of what we did back in the days with no broadband where we used
> lowres versions of the images to be loaded.
>
> About the willingness to wait, frustration hits at about 10 seconds.

I have to respectfully disagree with both of these suggestions.

Loading bars might as well be a measure of the visitor's cumulative
frustration level, and 10 seconds is far too much of the user's
valuable time to waste, no matter how wonderful the end result might be.

For the Flash-heavy advertising that is the main product of the Very
Large advertising company where I work, the general rule is:

"Load times SHALL take no more than three seconds, and if you need
that long, it damn well better erase the viewer's memory of the
wait ... and you're not a Vulcan."

(That was the draft version of the rule I wrote; the final version was
more diplomatic and took twice as long to get to the point.)

Robert Hoekman's suggestion to "include additional content and/or
interactive imagery" to the page is actually more of a requirement.
There are two components to performance: actual and perceived. If you
can't achieve actual performance gains, you must change the user's
perception to exclude any experience of waiting.

As several people on this thread have suggested, you can continue to
load Flash content in the background while your visitors are otherwise
engaged. In my opinion, we should flip that idea on its head:

Never distract the visitor from what you're showing them NOW with the
promise of things to come.

Whatever you're doing on screen, you should be guiding and controlling
the user's focus of attention. In most cases, the best thing you can
put in that focus is *a meaningful message* rather than the melange of
effects-driven, semi-abstract fireworks that one sees too often on
Flash sites.

One huge advantage of keeping meaningful content, presented well, in
front of the user at all times is that their perception of time slows
down as they consider that meaning ... and that's when your preloaders
should be beavering away to set up the next act.

> Users will only wait longer than that if they perceive the content
> to be really worth it.

The problem with convincing the user that the content they're waiting
to see is 'worth it' is that they're *still waiting*. You've only
increased their frustration and perception that your site performance
sucks.

By the way, user testing on 'office productivity software' (guess
where that was) indicates that an actual performance problem in one
area tends to have a 'bleed-over' effect on users' perception of
performance across an entire product. If the user notices *any single
performance problem*, previously acceptable performance times will
suddenly become marginally unacceptable.

> User testing won't really do for this since test users usually have
> a higher tolerance for waiting than real users.

True, you shouldn't insert performance-related questions during the
main course of testing, as doing so almost always negatively colors
the subject's overall assessment of the design being testing. However,
you can expose your worst performance hotspots by asking the right
followup questions after the main testing tasks are done.

> If you put it up live, watch for top exit pages in your logs, if
> they're leaving the content rich pages, you need to decrease the
> loading times.

Absolutely! But decrease the perceived loading times before they start
leaving, because you're not just losing a customer, you're losing
reputation.

Will Parker
wparker at channelingdesign.com

21 Apr 2008 - 4:45am
Jens Meiert
2004

> The question keeps coming up about how long people are willing to wait for
> something to load. Is there such a thing as an acceptable load time?

Guess that's all already said, but the "10 seconds rule" continues to
apply anyway, and "as fast as possible, no matter what" will remain an
important design/UX principle ...

Cheers,
Jens.

--
Jens Meiert
http://meiert.com/en/

26 May 2008 - 12:19pm
Jerome Ryckborst
2007

There are a LOT of places where download time is an issue. If your audience includes people who live or travel outside mainland North America, I'd say ANY wait time you experience within North America is unacceptable, because you'll lose audiences elsewhere.

Here are five experiences of mine, four recent, about connection speed:

A) I just returned from Alaska, yesterday, where I tried to keep up with my marking in an online course delivered via WebCT. It takes 5 clicks to get to each student's assignment, with a 2-minute wait after each click, and two more clicks to enter the mark and my feedback. And the system times out if I take too long to mark! (WebCT is *supposed* to be for delivering distance education!)

B) Last October I spent 6 weeks in Australia and, let me tell you, I noticed that the world-wide web is slow there. They claim that content within Australia is delivered faster, but I'm here to say that content from North America doesn't download fast to Australia.

C) At the start of this month, a colleague in India spoke to me on Skype. As usual, we didn't have the bandwidth for video, only for voice. I walked/talked him through our intranet. On Skype, he told me "I clicked [a link]" and then we waited while a page loaded from our SharePoint site. It took unbelievably long, much longer than the few seconds that it took me to load the same page from home, in Vancouver, Canada.

D) Last week, three of my colleagues did not bother to FTP to me some 100-MB data files from South Africa because it was "too time-consuming" for them to bother uploading when they'd be returning home this week. One of them returns home to Australia, though, so his FTP upload time will be longer than for my two Vancouver colleagues.

E) The above are all current examples. Here's an older example. Four years ago, I phone my parents in west Africa, and asked them: "So, what are you up to, today?" They were downloading e-mail from AOL, and had been for hours. The phone connection was typically poor and the downloading would restart instead of continue, every time the connection was regained. They still live there, BTW. I also recall a satellite phone connection with my dad (so not the local phone system) that was so clear, when I mentioned to him the slight hissing on the line, my dad closed the sliding glass door to block out the hissing sound of waves on the beach.

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