The importance of download speed, for most Web users, has long been established (King 2008). Fast response times foster higher flow states (Skadberg & Kimmel 2004), higher conversion rates (Akamai 2007), higher perceived trustworthiness (Nielsen 1999), and lower user frustration (Ceaparu et al. 2004). But, previous research has also found that differences in gender, age and computer self-efficacy can moderate user priorities. This article explores the differences among men and women in their desire for speed.
Web users want site designs to be both easy to use and helpful, as prior human-computer interaction (HCI) studies have shown. But most such studies haven’t ranked interface design features in achieving these objectives. Since this knowledge can positively impact site design or re-design, this article will ask and answer the question – is there a single interface design feature that maximizes both user goals; usability and utility? If so, how important is this feature compared to others?
Previous research has shown that user frustration increases when page load times exceed eight to 10 seconds, without feedback (Bouch, Kuchinsky, and Bhatti 2000, King 2003)., Newer evidence shows that broadband users are less tolerant of web page delays than narrowband users. A JupiterResearch survey found that 33% of broadband shoppers are unwilling to wait more than four seconds for a web page to load, whereas 43% of narrowband users will not wait more than six seconds (Akamai 2006).
The key to fast growth online is rapid customer responsiveness (Weill and Ross 2004). How a company executes its own web site is one indicator of how a company executes IT projects and values customer responsiveness. In order to determine the usability and credibility of top websites, researches from Minnesota State University compared the home pages of the fastest growing companies against the Fortune 30 (Brown, Rahman, & Hacker 2006). The researchers found that the largest companies in the US used designs that were more consistent than the fastest growing companies, as defined by Nielsen and Tahir’s best practices (2001). The fastest growing company home pages fared significantly worse in performance metrics.
Most books on human-computer interaction (HCI) and usability give recommendations based on empirical research, guidelines fit to observed user behavior, and cognitive models after the fact. Peter Pirolli, the father of information foraging theory, has written a new book that models and predicts what users will do before they navigate a website. Using mathematical models of human behavior, Pirolli lays out the foundation of information foraging theory, a relatively new field based in part on optimal foraging theory in animals (Stephens & Krebs 1986). The result is a seminal work in Oxford University Press’ series on Human-Computer Interaction. We were fortunate to review a proof of Pirolli’s new book Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information, due out April 2007.
The negative effects of website delay are well known. Faster is better (Shneiderman 1984, Bouch, Kurchinsky, and Bhatti 2000, Galletta et al. 2004). The trade-off between breadth and depth in menu design has been studied extensively. Wider is better (Jacko et al. 1995, Zaphiris and Mtei 1997, Larson and Czerwinski 1998). User familiarity with terminology and structure in website design has also been studied. Familiar is better (Edwards and Hardman 1989). However, the interaction between all three factors has not been studied until recently. Dennis Galletta, Raymond Henry, Scott McCoy, and Peter Polak analyzed how familiarity and breadth dampen the ill effects of website delay by increasing the “scent” of the target page (Galletta et al. 2006). This article summarizes their results.
A recent clickstream study revealed new information about how we use and peruse the Web. University of Hamburg researchers found that the Web is moving from a static hypertext information system to dynamic interactive services with rapid interactivity between man and machine. The authors recommend that web developers create concise, fast loading web pages to keep pace with the speed of web navigation.
Web users form first impressions of web pages in as little as 50 milliseconds (1/20th of a second), according to Canadian researchers. In the blink of an eye, web surfers make nearly instantaneous judgments of a web site’s “visual appeal.” Through the “halo effect” first impressions can color subsequent judgments of perceived credibility, usability, and ultimately influence our purchasing decisions. Creating a fast-loading, visually appealing site can help websites succeed.