Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Psychology of Time Perception in Software

Expressing time in the UI ...

"How you express time in the user interface (UI) can determine how your user experiences and perceives your solution. This chapter discusses when and how you should express time in the UI of your solution and introduces the use of time anchors.

In many instances, especially in progress indications, you need to communicate to your user some aspect of time, such as remaining time or estimated completion time. Although it may seem trivial and superficial, how you express time in the user interface (UI) can determine how your user experiences and perceives your solution. Simple words—for good or bad—can alter perception and affect tolerance. This chapter discusses when and how you should express time in the UI of your solution and introduces the use of time anchors.
The Timing of Time: Past, Present, Future

Besides what you express (phrases, time units, etc.) and how you express it (text, graphical, etc.), you also need to consider when you provide timing information to your user. For example, telling a person who is about to stand in line how long it will take to get to the front of the line has a different effect and serves a different purpose than informing the person who is already standing halfway in the line. Simply put, when you release information can make or break an experience. We all have our share of horror stories of how the mistiming of some information, sometimes by a matter of mere seconds, changed the course of events.

Users will use any information revealed by the UI—by design or otherwise—to form a perception of an interaction or process. This shouldn't be a surprise because we all do something similar every day. We make predictions based on patterns we see (long lines equal long wait), evaluate the quality of things based on signs and symptoms (blemishes equal carelessness), and form theories about why things happen the way they did (broken because of poor-quality parts). Likewise, users will use any timing information to help them understand and decide how they feel about and respond to the duration of an interaction.

Consider the following questions:

* How long will this take?
* How much longer will this take?
* How much time did that take?

Each of these three questions relates to a different temporal perspective; that is, where you are in temporal relation to some event. We can perceive durations from three basic temporal perspectives. First, we can anticipate, set expectations, or predict the duration of an event before it begins. Because the event has not happened, we'll describe this as prospective. In the UI, informing users how long a download will take, for example, is giving users a prospective estimate of the duration of the download. Second, we assess the duration of an event in real time while it is transpiring. A great example is reporting remaining time as the download is progressing. Finally, we can also evaluate the duration after event has transpired. We describe this last one as retrospective. Telling users how much time the download took after it has completed is an example. As mentioned, when you provide information about the duration of some event can influence user perception and shape user experience. Let's take a closer look at each of the perspectives."    (Continued via Usability News, InformIT)    [Usability Resources]

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