How many people are bored at their desk
for how many hours every day
and how many days a week
and how many weeks a year
for how many years in their life?
[Small thing. Big idea.]
[Daniel Engber on
the Progress Bar]
The progress bar is just
an indicator on a computer
that something's happening
inside the device.
The classic one that's been used
for years is a horizontal bar.
I mean, this goes back
to pre-computer versions of this
on ledgers, where people would fill in
a horizontal bar from left to right
to show how much of a task
they had completed at a factory.
This is just the same thing on a screen.
Something happened in the 70s
that is sometimes referred
to as "the software crisis,"
where suddenly, computers
were getting more complicated
more quickly than anyone
had been prepared for,
from a design perspective.
People were using percent-done
indicators in different ways.
So you might have a graphical
or they would have a line of asterisks
that would fill out
from left to right on a screen.
But no one had done
a systematic survey of these things
and tried to figure out:
How do they actually affect
the user's experience
of sitting at the computer?
This graduate student named Brad Myers,
in 1985, decided he would study this.
He found that it didn't really matter
if the percent-done indicator
was giving you the accurate percent done.
What mattered was
that it was there at all.
Just seeing it there
made people feel better,
and that was the most surprising thing.
He has all these ideas
about what this thing could do.
Maybe it could make people
Maybe it would allow people
to turn away from their machine
and do something else
of exactly the right duration.
They would look and say,
"Oh, the progress bar is half done.
That took five minutes.
So now I have five minutes
to send this fax,"
or whatever people were doing in 1985.
Both of those things are wrong.
Like, when you see that progress bar,
it sort of locks your attention
in a tractor beam,
and it turns the experience of waiting
into this exciting narrative
that you're seeing unfold in front of you:
that somehow, this time you've spent
waiting in frustration
for the computer to do something,
has been reconceptualized as:
"Progress! Oh! Great stuff is happening!"
But once you start thinking
about the progress bar
as something that's more
about dulling the pain of waiting,
well, then you can start fiddling
around with the psychology.
So if you have a progress bar
that just moves at a constant rate --
let's say, that's really
what's happening in the computer --
that will feel to people
like it's slowing down.
We get bored.
Well, now you can start
trying to enhance it
and make it appear to move
more quickly than it really is,
make it move faster at the beginning,
like a burst of speed.
That's exciting, people feel like,
"Oh! Something's really happening!"
Then you can move back into a more
naturalistic growth of the progress bar
as you go along.
You're assuming that people are focusing
on the passage of time --
they're trying to watch grass grow,
they're trying to watch a pot of water,
waiting for it to boil,
and you're just trying
to make that less boring,
less painful and less frustrating
than it was before.
So the progress bar at least gives you
the vision of a beginning and an end,
and you're working towards a goal.
I think in some ways,
it mitigates the fear of death.