System performance – Perception of time


System performance – Perception of time

When we carry out UX and usability studies, we often hear statements such as "I would have stopped by now, it's taking forever", "That's annoying”, "I'm going to press the button again, maybe something will happen."

If you think that something like this only happens in the test laboratory, you might be surprised. Try to think about your own behaviour for instance when you search for something online or when you click on a button and nothing happens:

  • How quickly do you close a tab when you feel the page content is loading too slowly?
  • How long do you wait until you leave a configurator because it feels like it takes forever to apply the filters?
  • How likely is it that you wait several seconds for your new route to be calculated by your navigation system when you are standing at the intersection?
  • Or, how often do you click a button or link again because nothing happens?

You have probably noticed that your impatience is high and your tolerance to wait is rather low because it does not match your expectations – independent of the device used. 

By now, after looking at these various examples, it should be clear how a product’s system performance (load and reaction time) impacts a good user experience. It has a lasting effect on the user's perception and often determines whether a product or service will be used again in the future or not.    

If you think the relevance of this topic is overrated take a closer look at the results of a large-scale study by Google: 46% of those surveyed rated long waiting times when loading the website on the mobile device as the biggest nuisance when surfing.

Risking a change of perspective: measuring vs. perceiving

System performance is often viewed from two perspectives: that of the product/development team and that of the user. 

  • Product/development teams try to achieve an objective assessment of performance based on measured values and metrics. This quick and easy method allows the team to collect and compare valid metrics. Numerous analytics tools and plug-ins can be used for the continuous collection and monitoring of data.
  • From the user's perspective, the performance of a product is perceived rather subjectively - i.e. the perceived time. Thus 10 seconds can feel like a small eternity.  


The impact of poor system performance cannot only be measured in terms of frustration and dissatisfaction expressed by the users. Effects can additionally be reflected in the following ways:

  • in the conversion rate if users leave the site early.
  • in the wasted potentials in the Google ranking. The loading time of web pages is one of the ranking factors of Google, i.e. if the loading time is bad, the ranking on Google may suffer.
  • in the decreased usability of the product and service.
  • in the increased consumption of resources (e.g. time to complete a task) and sometimes resulting inefficient process flows.
  • in the impairment of the understanding of the product and the service

What can be done to sustainably improve the perceived system performance – 3 tips 

  • Use appropriate analytics tools to collect and check the performance on a regular basis. Websites with many images often take longer to load. Check the image size and compress the images, if needed. Also, try to prioritize optimization measures.
  • Ensure immediate feedback is provided after the user has triggered an action. Thus, users not only have the feeling of being in control over what is happening at all times, but they also see what state the system is in.
    For example, make key information available immediately. To this end, load the contents piece by piece and thus keep the user busy. Instagram, for example, preloads text and hashtags while images are still loading. Similarly, the Onleihe app (online public library system) preloads a "content skeleton" as a placeholder for content and images. (see pictures below). 
  • Users like to be kept busy. Therefore try to avoid passive waiting times. Fill the user's waiting time with an activity, animation or entertaining content to distract them from the waiting time. 

Michael Wörmann

Dörte Maasch

Dörte is a consultant at Facit Digital and specializes in qualitative methods. It is important to her to get the user on board as early as possible in order to achieve the optimal user experience