07 April, 2016

Creating Positive Experiences on Mobile Apps While Users Wait


No one likes to endure the frustration of waiting. Hence, we often like to find ways to beat the ticking hand of time. We go out of our way to find the quickest option or any other means to reduce our wait. One of my previous posts talked about the pain caused by long waits and how skeleton screens solved the wait problem to some extent. In this post, I take a step back to figure out what other methods could be employed to make long waits, worth enduring.
Purpose of Loading Indicator and its problem
Traditional folklore suggests that if we keep users waiting, we must let them know:
  • It will take a while
  • They need to be patient as they wait
Loading indicators were, hence, born. As this trend caught up, developers and designers put their blood and sweat into developing the 'Next Best Progress Bar/ Spinner Of The Year' elements. And then, we had a bunch of innovative items. Google 'Best Loading Icon' and see it for yourself. While design and functionality of these icons was good, they failed to fulfill the fundamental need of 'waiting'. Looking at these icons only made users feel that time is moving even slower than before. The purpose of ‘progress’ was lost!
Techniques to shorten long waits
1. Transitions
Consider hamburger menu on any mobile app. Tap on the menu only to see a loading icon, hinting that the next screen is loading .................... slowly. You end up waiting.
Consider  using an interactive 3D transition that slowly collapses existing screen and makes way for the new screen. Ctrip app does it really well. As soon as user taps on hamburger menu, the home screen slides animatedly to the right making way for the menu items on the left side of the screen, eventually taking up 3/4th of the mobile screen.
Hamburger Menu Transition on Ctrip app
Transition not just helps in making apps feel better, but also reduces perceived wait time.
2. Skeleton Screens
Another way to avoid loading screens and focus on progress is to use Skeleton Screens. I have covered this in good depth HERE and will not include it here, in the interest of digital real estate.
3. Offers / Ancillary Services / Advertising New Features
Long wait times can be monetized. You heard that right! You can utilize wait times by showcasing content. Relevant personalized content! This content could be: a)Lucrative deals and offers, b)Ancillary services or c)Advertisements. Airline booking apps use this extremely well by offering additional paid services, known as ancillary services, to users while users wait.
Hipmunk app uses the wait time to:
A. Educate Users
Hipmunk posts useful #Tips on specific topics. E.g., How to complete a particular task or activity, or even a random quote related to travel.
Useful Tips displayed while Hipmunk app looks for suitable flights
B. Introduce New Features
While relevant flight results are loaded, Hipmunk introduces an existing feature, ‘Fare Alerts’ wherein user is asked to subscribe to free fare alerts. An assuring statement, ‘This will not interfere with your search.’ is displayed, just in case user fears that his search operation will be abandoned. If user taps on ‘Subscribe to this alert’ button, the button is replaced by ‘Adding fare alert…', followed by ‘Fare alert added!’ message. Throughout this activity, Hipmunk’s maskot dances on the screen, hinting that flight search results are on their way. This is a classic usage of channeling frustrating wait times to positive experiences.
Hipmunk app using wait times by displaying 'Fare Alerts' to users 
Summary
The focus of loading indicators should be more on the progress rather than making wait times longer and intolerable.
To summarize, we can create better wait experience by using:
  1. Transition screens
  2. Skeleton screens
  3. Offers / Ancillary Services / Advertising screens
When speeding-up a process is not an option, giving extra care to a customer makes the experience of waiting more tolerable. I appreciate the free cookies and other samples in line at the Whole Foods store during the Thanksgiving season as the checkout queue snakes across the entire store. Saving time is thus the trade-off between the quantitatively fast versus the qualitatively fast.
John Maeda
Waiting is what people do in this world, most of the time. As they wait, telling them how much time they have left and how they can utilize it better, is only humane!
Do you make the wait time more tolerable and engaging? How?