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Our engineers are making some changes to our RESTful service calls, so on one page we are making many calls to get different contents through different AJAX calls to fetch small amounts of data, instead of fetching all the data at once. This way is supposed to help us improve the loading speed.

However, while waiting for the responses, they suggest adding spinners all over the page. From my point of view, too many spinners with different sizes makes the page busy and distracting.

I don't know what the UX experts would say about this.

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this is a spinner: scripteka.com/files/script_images/spinner.gif . what you are referring to is called a "throbber". –  Neil McGuigan Aug 5 '11 at 5:41
    
At the very least, if you do end up having many spinners, consider doing some damage limitation and making the animated graphic quite faint. The more of them there are, the fainter they can be. Eg - 10-15% opacity. –  Roger Attrill Aug 5 '11 at 9:36

9 Answers 9

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It really depends on the situation. If every part of a page is asynchronously loading then the visitor is getting no added value of seeing 5 spinners as opposed to only one for the whole page. If only one or two panels are fetching data but the visitor can interact with/get value from the content that is already showing, then that might be an acceptable solution.

A second thing to note is you should be consistent with your loading graphics. Don't use five different spinner graphics in five sections on a page. Instead, go with a consistent look and feel for each of your loading panels.

Maybe a good middle ground would use a full page loading panel on the initial load, but then use a loading panel for each individual section whenever they async update. Try to avoid having a page with loading panels everywhere, especially if there is nothing but loading panels.

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A large number of spinners would distract the user's eye from the content you've worked hard to fetch early. If you must have multiple 'loading' signifiers, use text labels like "Loading content..." or somesuch.

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IMO spinners should not be used for normal page load - I don't think I've ever seen a website doing that. Make it load fast and don't worry about spinners. If there are parts where you need to load external content, you could use a spinner there - but if it's not a key feature I wouldn't bother to draw the attention to the area that's still loading while the user could start using the page instead.

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I agree with your view of the multiple spinners being "...busy and distracting".

Have the engineers provided a compelling usability reason for displaying multiple spinners at the same time? Just because they can add the spinners, or just because it would be "neat" to them, doesn't suffice: can they offer a reason why it would be beneficial for the person who uses their application?

I imagine my reaction to such a page would be:
(1) What's so important about all these spinners?
(2) Are the people who made this site trying to make me dizzy?
(3) Is the site broken? (especially relevant the longer the spinners display)
(4) I can't think of another cool site that uses multiple spinners...why is this one breaking conventions?

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Loading icons should be used sparingly because you don't want the user feeling that the system is slow and sluggish however users do want to know that the system is doing something.

Jakob Nielsen has an interesting article on response times and indicators here.

The crux of it is, if the load time is under 1 second probably won't need to have a loading icon or 'spinner'.

Back to the question, do many spinners look good?, generally no. But from a usability perspective my response to this would be to consider how important instant feedback is on each case and then make a decision.

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It's a good question. I think where they help (and NOT different sizes/shapes etc) are in a way to assure the user that the data is processing and things are moving along. In a situation where there is tons of data, say in a table, these can be the right solution. If data is dynamically generated specifically for a user, they may even develop a level of trust. As always, there is overkill.

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I wouldn't mind a number of spinners on the page, as this is becoming more and more popular as a loading technique to delivery the initial content of the page faster and only load required content.

I would get your dev team to prioritize the ajax calls so the top elements of the page load first and elements hidden by the fold are loading last. If the user can see an order to the loading and has some content to read and absorb while the other elements are loading then they will understand what is going on. If however they just see a page full of spinners they may think there is a timeout issue or just get the feeling that the site slow and navigate away or try and refresh.

Also I do agree that the spinners and design of the loading elements should all be the same and to make sure that there is the initial content loading on the pages as soon as the user navigates to the page.

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Having to many spinners on a page, may also mean having a lot of ajax requests at once to load the content. That's not only bad in case of UX. Do you ever thought about SEO?

@adesignapart I would not say that it is becoming more popular. You will see it more and more in the web but it does not make the user happier. It is getting more common but really shows how many developers doesn't care about UX.

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Hi Timo, the second paragraph of your answer is better served by being a comment on @adesignapart's answer. Please move it. –  Rahul Aug 5 '11 at 8:15

One spinner might be best, with some less-distracting method of showing incremental progress in other areas. Perhaps a grayed-out version of that area?

Multiple spinners make your eye go all over. They might be okay if they are all in a vertical column, showing a series of items loading, but if they are not in an easily recognizable pattern, they take a lot of energy to process, and make it hard to use the rest of the page.

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