What is Time? A UX Insight.

In user research we talk about cognition time – how long does it take a user to comprehend what they’re looking at, and if a response is required or desired, what is the “reaction-time” or “time-to-completion“. This is looking at time as a human factor.

From the user’s perspective, time isn’t at the forefront of their awareness, but it rides heavily in the background.

“How long do I have to wait for this page/file to load/download?”
“What’s taking the system so long?”
“That’s a lot of text… this is going to take a while – I’ll just skim”
etc, etc.

To listen in to what users are thinking, even if they’re not articulating time or impatience – their expectation is that we, as designers and publishers of information,  will be respectful of their time.

As a business investing in the design of a business system, any cost factor with respect to time is a heavily considered metric.  “How can we reduce the time to completion?” in literally every given business process.  “Where does system/user error contribute to lost revenue or time?”  In business, time is money.  Time spent training staff on systems, time spent taking support calls or re-engineering systems.

When you start to boil down the essential factors that reduce spending, increase productivity, decrease frustration and friction – time emerges as a critical design consideration.  As a designer, how do you adequately address time consideration in your strategy?  What are the metrics and how can you implement frictionless time-saving?

Time Factors:

  • Universal/Circadian Time: 60 sec/1min
  • Temporal Time (the perception of time): Multivariate and Subjective, but safe to say – distorted none-the-less.
  • Attention:  Span – 8 seconds.  That’s all you got.  Most users start getting frustrated after 3 seconds.
  • Reaction/Response Capacity: The average reaction time for humans is 0.25 seconds to a visual stimulus, 0.17 for an audio stimulus, and 0.15 seconds for a touch stimulus.

Human Factor Time Reduction Strategies:

Being respectful of people’s time is easier to do when physical proximity or interaction is involved, but in the digital space, the abstraction of the person has allowed for a reduced consideration for the time demand.  Fortunately, there are some strategies and considerations that can help bring it back to the forefront.

Understand context: User/Business Ethnography: What is the cost of time spent? This consideration demands both a detailed understanding of discrete interactions as well as gestalt views of end-to-end user journeys. This requires user/market research as well as business and technical analysis.

Anticipated Need & Anticipatory Design: If you have a good concept of the user journey(s) and the related needs within the context of the journey, you can serve content, data, and functions to them without forcing the request.

Reducing Digital Interference:  This comes both in the form of noise (or what’s present that serves little to no purpose) and barriers (what stands between the user and what they truly need).

Respecting Cognitive Load: Reducing clutter, Minimize Choices, Group Similar Things, Write/Design for Readability and Scent of information.  A user should be able to find within 3 seconds.

Consider Casualties: What suffers?  What are you willing to risk either through incomplete registrations/transactions,  training/support expenditures, general loss of productivity or efficiency.  In some cases – human factors and time, particularly reaction time – sometimes the casualty can be injury or loss of life.

Articles/Resources on Time and Human Perception:

UX for Brains: Let’s Be Honest, People Suck

Source: www.lullabot.com

Using a psychological perspective to approach design problems isn’t meant to side-step UX practices, but actually, enhance them. I think of it as adding dimension to your practices and teams, by allowing you to see out of two eyes, instead of just one.

Hick’s law – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Hick’s law, or the Hick-Hyman Law, named after British and American psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically.