customer experience, usability, jakob nielsonWe’ve all complained about interfaces that load too slowly, but what about when, in this age of high-performance devices and super-fast connections, they perform too quickly? The user experience firm Nielsen Norman Group has been thinking about this new wrinkle.

In an article this week on their website, “When the UI Is Too Fast,” principal Jakob Nielsen noted that, since 99 percent of all UI response time issues relate to slow performance, it might be “dangerous” to write about those few cases of hyper-speediness.

Take a Breath, UI

Snappy is one thing, but too fast screen changes can mean the user makes an error in responding. Nielsen noted a recent example during user testing of tablet applications for a course, when the user failed to touch the correct entry on the touchscreen because “the target kept moving.”

The target, which involved selecting the correct WiFi network, kept moving because the tablet app was continually adding or deleting entries of available WiFi networks as it scanned the airwaves.

Now, technically speaking, the interaction mismatch Nielsen describes isn’t necessarily because the UI is too fast, but because the UI keeps adding elements as the result of incoming data. One could characterize this issue as a design one, in which the UI designer should have loaded the WiFi network choices, waited for user input, and then refreshed the choices.

It reminds me of another UI issue I continually encounter. You think a complex page has loaded, such as a news screen, and you click or touch your selection -- only to find it is still loading and the entire page shifts to accommodate the last piece, so you click or touch the wrong item. From the user’s point of view, it’s a variant of the circumstance Nielsen describes, when the layout is still updating, but in this case the reason is slow loading and not because it is accommodating new data.

Match User, UI

Updates resulting from new data, Nielsen points out, are “great when they’re the result of user-initiated actions,” such as screen changes resulting from moving a slider. Because the user is doing something, he said, they know where to look for the change, assuming it occurs near the user action.

The article noted there are on-screen devices that change too quickly, such as carousels or rotators. With the emergence of 5G wireless, gigabit fiber lines and even faster processors, the prospect of over-caffeinated UIs could become an increasingly encountered problem. In any case, NNG’s advice is that the UI should “pay attention to the time aspect of the user experience.”