Custom Load Animations: Good or Bad?

WOOT my monthly “eWebDesign” newsletter just came bearing fruits. Here’s an article worth noting and commenting:

The Psychology of Waiting, Loading Animations, and Facebook

I was really excited about this since I have been thinking a lot lately about incorporating some loading transitions into a couple of my websites. Also, with Facebook Paper being recently released (although not to Android, grrr) the article seemed quite relevant.

And it was – It’s a known fact that people hate waiting. Shit, I’m impatient myself. So the use of “transition” states or loading pages is quite important. The author Mitchell references Why Waiting Sucks in order to explain how giving a user something to do while he waits, even if it ends up taking the same amount of time, can sometimes be more beneficial than getting somewhere quickly and having to wait there. In fact, a psychological experiment was conducted to see just that:

Alex Stone discusses the psychology of waiting and notes how high levels of customer complaints at a Houston airport dropped to nothing after the airport extended the distance between the terminals and baggage claim. This forced travelers to walk six times further, but although overall wait time increased, the occupied time of walking felt shorter than the unoccupied time associated with standing around at the baggage carousel.

So here’s what’s really interesting: When Facebook experimented with two different loading images on their app, users frustration changed depending on the image. 


Facebook’s Custom Image: Blamed on the app. 


Standard Loading Image: Blamed on the device.

Makes sense right? If you an image that is considered “standard” or has been utilized in other scenarios (i.e. OS’s spinning wheel of death) you naturally link that instance to when you’ve seen it before (recognition). As soon as that link is made, the past experience that object extends itself onto the context of the new object. And viola! Now you’re current frustration again becomes the result of whatever was causing it before (in this case iOS). 


Mac OS Spinning Wheel and “Standard” Loader. Similar? I think yes.

So for me this news is a huge bummer. I mean, think of all the awesome loading image gifs you can make that expand past a circle. I mean, you could even go as far as creating something interactive to keep them entertained rather that let them think about the fact that they are waiting (ie. a mini-game for them to play while the content is generated)! 


Interactive Loading Screen Concept

And that’s when I disagree. At that point, when the loading image deviates so far from the “standard” that it’s not even recognizably a loading image, the user again forgets about the wait, and somewhat like the long walk through the airport, is more entertained by the process than if they would have reached their destination 5 minutes earlier. 


Fun Custom Image Transitions

Maybe that “something” would have to be interactive, but for me, I always appreciate something customized. What do you think?

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