Respecting Time on a Loading Screen
Whether it’s waiting for a web page or that next Netflix video, we’ve all had to annoyingly wait for that endless spinning wheel at one point or another. While realistically, we probably shouldn’t expect to watch a high quality video on youtube without some form of loading anytime soon, shouldn’t there a way to make the experience better? If users need to spend their time waiting for loading, why aren’t we making better use of that time?
This is something games do quite well. Due to the heavy graphics component of many video games, it’s almost impossible to create one without creating heavy, friction-filled loading screens. But what’s interesting is how each of them handles that process to remove friction. They’ve found ways to distract the player with eye-catching animations, deliver key information for players to think about, and upsell particular behaviors players otherwise may not discover. I’ll introduce the approaches two well known games take to this problem and describe how the same lessons can be applied to consumer products, examining smart home devices as an example.
Let’s start with Mario. While it lacks a conventional loading screen, its title screen served as almost the same purpose. When a player was idle on that screen, a demo of the first level would play. There you could see Mario, your character, moving to the right while collecting points and power-ups. Beyond being some of the best technology to watch (in that time!), it helped introduce the user interface, the concept of “points” and visually showed different power-ups like the mushroom and the fire flower. By the time the player actually hit start, they would already know the basics of the game, reducing the friction and the steepness of the learning curve. The same is true for many modern games.
Similar to Mario, League of Legend’s loading screen conveys all the necessary information for players, while providing distractions from the friction in waiting. Each profile is clickable, providing players something to distract themselves. On each profile, there’s additional statistics about each player like their proficiency and character profiles. In addition, in the center, there is an upsell to engage players more with the story and brand behind the characters creating greater user investment in the game. All of these key design elements go into lessening the user friction in having to wait for the experience to load.
Fortunately for us, we can apply these same learnings, to distract, inform and motivate desired behaviors during loading screens to many consumer devices as well.
Setting up a smart home device can be quite cumbersome. From needing to wait for WiFi to connect, then needing to wait again for configurations or updates, to being asked for all of the possible settings and changes you’d like to make, it’s a very long tiring process. Amazon’s approach to this with the Echo is unfortunately also quite long. Amazon asks you to use their phone app, choosing your echo device, checking your wifi and your settings. While there are some informational images of Echos to guide the user to the buttons on the device, this loading process doesn’t distract or motivate other behaviors on Echo. For example, in the image above, while waiting for the echo to connect to wifi, which may take a few minutes, it may be helpful to include either a distracting animation, or tips for commands you could say. Either of those would be a better use of the users’ time during the setup process.
Of course, this isn’t an issue that is unique to Echos. To solve this same problem for Google’s smart home devices, Google introduced eye-catching animations that would attract the user’s attention. As you can see from the image, each of them represents something about the on-going process, for example, the one with the bluetooth icon may be used during bluetooth pairing. While these animations are beautifully designed, it also seems like a missed opportunity to at the same time introduce voice commands or key features especially while the user is paying special attention during first time setup. Overall, Google’s setup process does very well at distracting the user and making it a more pleasant experience.
Ultimately, by distracting, informing and motivating other behaviors during loading screens, we make better use of our consumers’ time. Every person’s time is important and every second matters. Though we’ve only looked at a particular friction-packed experience, these lessons are applicable to any product that requires human-machine coordination. So the next time you’re working on any such product, think back to the lessons gaming shares with us, and ask yourself, “How can I better respect my user’s time?”