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I've been debating if I should add a preloader to my page that hides all of the page's content until it's loaded. Once it's loaded, it fades out a full-screen overlay to reveal the site. Is that delay in seeing content beneficial or harmful? Does it work on certain sites better (ie a smaller portfolio site vs a big news site)?

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What value do you feel this provides the user? (Typically, having to cause a user to wait even longer to see content is a bad idea...) – DA01 Jan 23 '14 at 23:37
The only value I can think of is that the site gets presented more uniformly, rather than rendering in chunks. – flatfootdesign Jan 24 '14 at 15:43
If that's the only benefit in this situation, I'd say it's not really a benefit for the user. They're there to get to something, the quicker you let them get to it, the better. All pages 'render in chunks' so it's not like that would be an atypical experience for the user. – DA01 Jan 24 '14 at 16:48
Agreed and I think that's where my opinion is at. – flatfootdesign Jan 24 '14 at 16:56
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Loadmasks (the category to which a preloader belongs) have two main functions:

  • To provide a feedback that the site is still functionion despite a long period of no interface change. In other words, you are telling the user "wait, I'm doing something" Consider a page that takes 10 seconds to load due to an extremely complex database query; without the loadmask, users may suspect the site is hung.
  • To prevent users from interacting with the system, when such interaction may be senseless or cause errors. Consider a user placing an order that may takes up to 20 second to be approved by the kitchen. You really don't want the user to do anything on the screen while the confirmation is pending.

So if any of these two is your case, preloader would be beneficial.

Against preloaders is the fact that they delay users' scanning and interpretation of the site content - if what's there before the site load could in anyway be meaningful for the user, you may wish to rule against a preloader.

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