Why Your App Isn’t Really Loading (It’s Psychology)

Why Your App Isn't Really LoadingHere’s a total click-bait headline: The UX Secret That Will Ruin Apps For You. Even though I rather like apps and don’t want them ruined for me, of course I clicked, only to find a UX “secret” that is a familiar friend.

Here it is: Chances are, your app isn’t really loading when it tells you it is. Those delays when your app is searching for flights, logging into your accounts, or creating your feedback are deliberately added by designers to fool users into thinking the process takes longer than it does.

Why would they do that? It turns out, people don’t trust the output of an app that returns results with lightning speed, even though most well-built apps can do that. We expect particularly serious or complex transactions (health, financial, etc.) to take some time to complete. People associate speed with sloppiness, and nobody wants that when it comes to their bank accounts or their medical records. So, to create more credibility, people deliberately design apps to take longer to “process.”

We found similar results with our users when I worked on digital health coaching products. Our programs would almost instantaneously (less than one second) produce high volume personalized output based on a pretty significant amount of data input. But users told us in testing that they didn’t believe the output was really personalized (even though it was accurate for them) because it happened too fast. So we experimented with different processing screens and images, finally settling on what we dubbed the “magic moment”: An animation that took about 12 seconds and showed how the system was synthesizing user data to create a personalized coaching plan.

As a designer of apps, I’ve made heavy use of the loading trick to build credibility with users. As a user of apps, my knowledge of the loading trick has at times made me hugely impatient with my online experiences. And yet, I still find myself slipping back into that mindset of believing that if it’s important, it must also be hard. What do you think?