Waiting is something that we all do every day, but our experience of waiting varies radically depending on the context. And it turns out that design can completely change whether a five-minute wait feels reasonable or completely unbearable.
In 1981, Xerox came out with its latest, quickest, top of the line machine — an office computer called the Xerox Star. But even though the Star was one of the fastest computers of its time, it didn’t feel fast. That perception of slowness may have had something to do with the design of loading icons. That perception of slowness may have had something to do with the design of loading icons.
On the Star, the mouse cursor would turn into a static hourglass icon. Macintoshes from the same time had a wristwatch icon that was stuck at 9 o’clock, and every single time you saw the hourglass or the wristwatch, you knew you had to wait again. The problem with the watch icon was it gave you no sense of how long you would be waiting for. It could be seconds, minutes, hours, or might not even finish at all.
Older computers from the 70s had had a very simple way to let users know that the computer was working... dots. It was not unusual for programs in the 70s that ran a while to print out a dot on the screen or on the printer every now and then. So you would know that it’s at least making progress. Having that little bit of information about the progress the computer was making, made the experience of waiting more bearable.
The progress bars gave the user an accurate depiction of how much of a task had been completed at any given time. So if the first ten percent loaded in ten seconds, then you would think — well this whole thing will take 100 seconds. Except it didn’t always take a hundred seconds. Sometimes the computer would slow down over some computational speed bump, and you’d end up feeling completely betrayed. This revealed something really key about the psychology of waiting and why t hings often feel slower than they really are. It’s all about our expectations.