July 6, 2016

Wait for it…

Your wait is important to you. No, really, it is.

I didn’t know this, but some online services actually make us wait for their response. I learned this via Mark Wilson, who revealed as much in his latest post.

The fact is that returning a search result usually takes micro-seconds, but we’re suspicious creatures. Anything that appears too quickly can make us wary – that somehow the response must have been ‘prepared’. It just doesn’t feel considered enough. The answer I want couldn’t possibly be that simple: after all, it takes time for people to figure things out – and we take that bias with us to machine response times. We look for the human hand where none were needed for the conviction in our choices.


It’s remarkable to realise (well, at least to me) that everything I’ve assumed is predicated on a expectation of faster-is-better in the digital world (and so necessarily in the real one) is counter-intuitive.

The application of this appears to have spun out from this study by really smart people at Harvard:

“A ubiquitous feature of even the fastest self-service technology transactions is the wait. Conventional wisdom and operations theory suggests that the longer people wait, the less satisfied they become; we demonstrate that due to what we term the labor illusion, when websites engage in operational transparency by signaling that they are exerting effort, people can actually prefer websites with longer waits to those that return instantaneous results—even when those results are identical.”

The Labor Illusion: How Operational Transparency Increases Perceived Value
Ryan W. Buell and Michael I. Norton

The problem(?) we have is that, at least for some digital services, the technology really is that good. It’s just we can’t quite come to terms with it yet. We need a moment and that’s what that loading bar’s doing for us. Making us aware of – or at least fooling us into thinking – there’s legwork involved in tracking down the perfect insurance product / NBF / mobile contract.

The Harvard study’s five (or between 24 and 35 internet) years old, which makes me wonder why I had to wait so long to hear about this. But then maybe I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise?

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. […] often worth pausing for a bit before offering advice on what we think might be for the best. Like ‘best for who, […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

Latest Posts By Richard Hill


Design, Experiences, Re-thinking, strategy, UX


, , , , , , ,