When product owners and user experience designers begin brainstorming features for a new or redesigned web application, you can expect a pretty long wish list. Speed is not usually on it. It’s simply assumed that the technical team will be able to make the site load quickly, regardless of what solution the strategists and designers provide.
As web users, we all know the frustrating moment when you decide to abandon a site. Indeed, it is a daily occurrence to many of us. You never would want your own site to cause that kind of user frustration, nor would you expect such a slow site to meet your business objectives.
Despite this fact, sites are getting slower instead of faster. We can attribute much of the slowdown to a disconnect between the design process and the real world speed after implementation.
Like most things in life, there is a tradeoff to be managed. If user experience designers aren’t attuned to the impacts of their decisions on performance, the success of the site will be jeopardized.
In this article we will take a look at the impact of web performance on your business goals – and how you can ensure that your user experience is visually compelling and robust while also making sure it meets user expectations for speed.
Each Second Is Gold
Faster page speed improves search engine optimization; Google has been using page speed in their rankings for years. Faster page speed has been proven to increase nearly every key metric, from page views to conversions to user satisfaction.
Slower page speed, of course, has the opposite effect.
- 57% of visitors will leave if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
- 74% of visitors will leave if it takes longer than 5 seconds to load.
Striking a balance between features and speed is the key – and it’s a huge challenge for the entire project team. This is why Brad Frost and others have challenged us to think of good performance as good design. He encourages us to educate, collaborate and start testing early in the process.
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We usually think of budgets as monetary constraints. And, to be sure, you’ll need to plan for the actual time and costs of improving your site. But the idea of a “performance budget” is something altogether different. It refers to the amount of time your users will reasonably wait for your site to load.
This “budget” will vary depending on your industry, site and users. Tim Kadlec shares an example in his original article on performance budgets, “The BBC did this with their responsive mobile site. They determined that they wanted each page to be usable within 10 seconds on a (slow mobile) connection.”
Your goal might be to load within that crucial 3-second window; it might be to beat your competitors; or maybe you just want to improve enough so that your users take notice. Even small changes in your site’s load time will improve the experience for your users. The impact of such improvements on the bottom line, when multiplied by thousands of users over time, can be significant.
Adjusting the Design Process
As a rule, do not assume your techies are magicians. Page complexity generally correlates to slower page speed.
The more features you add, the larger and more complex your pages become. There are many technical practices that can be used when the page is being built to trim the size and improve speed – and those should always be exhausted. The suggestions below, however, are less focused on tactics for developers, and more focused on incorporating web performance into your user experience design process. This impacts your entire project team.
Design teams should consider how their decisions will impact performance and the “weight” of the page. The lower the weight of a page, the faster it loads. Steve Souders provided a straightforward set of options to help teams simplify their decision making.
- Optimize an existing feature/asset
- Remove an existing feature/asset
- Don’t add a new feature/asset
For each feature or content element, teams should consider each of these options. If a performance budget has been established, teams will be compelled to prioritize the most important and eliminate the frivolous items. Your team may change their mind, for instance, about a rotating image carousel, after learning it adds significant load time without providing an equivalent value to the user or to the business.
Anyone Can Measure Speeds
Once you have a working alpha build in the browser, you can reassess and test on a variety of devices. Use browser tools to throttle speeds to see how fast your page loads for a variety of scenarios (e.g., 3G mobile user compared with a broadband user).
They may be called “Developer Tools” but everybody who is responsible for designing web applications should be familiar with load times and page weight.
It’s time to elevate the importance of load time to the level of page views and bounce rate. At Crux Collaborative, we believe that considering the former will surely improve the latter. Include speed metrics on your standard reports. Set speed goals and work to achieve them as a team.
By improving your site’s speed, your users will thank you by staying on your site and engaging more with your content. And your boss will thank you for meeting the business objectives and delivering better results.
At Crux Collaborative, our multi-disciplinary team collaborates with clients to help them create user experiences that balance user needs, business objectives and technical constraints. If you would like to learn more about how you can improve your web performance, talk to us. We’d love to hear about your needs.
By Tony Johnson
Senior Front-end Developer
Tony has spent well over a decade building interactive applications. He collaborates in the full life cycle of projects – bringing a unique blend of technical savvy, creativity and strategic thinking to our user experience consulting services.View Tony's Bio