I'm going to be making the case to a client and am looking for evidence to my claim. I proposed that when their system is loading or "warming up", it would be better show the wait time as a count-up towards completion using a percentage and a progress bar rather than showing a countdown timer. The system is very basic GUI with a steady start up time of 1 min.

My instinct tells me that showing the percentage and progress bar is more positive to the user and acts as a reward once the system is running completely. Is there a specific behavioral research term or concept that explains this to back up my rationale?

  • It is not going to have a steady start up time and various hardware.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 18:35

3 Answers 3


Some interesting research on wait times from the Nielsen Norman Group.

Response Times: The 3 Important Limits

0.1 second is about the limit for having the user feel that the system is reacting instantaneously, meaning that no special feedback is necessary except to display the result.

1.0 second is about the limit for the user's flow of thought to stay uninterrupted, even though the user will notice the delay. Normally, no special feedback is necessary during delays of more than 0.1 but less than 1.0 second, but the user does lose the feeling of operating directly on the data.

10 seconds is about the limit for keeping the user's attention focused on the dialogue. For longer delays, users will want to perform other tasks while waiting for the computer to finish, so they should be given feedback indicating when the computer expects to be done. Feedback during the delay is especially important if the response time is likely to be highly variable, since users will then not know what to expect.

Looks like you have a particularly long load time in your case.

For longer wait times:

Progress Indicators Make a Slow System Less Insufferable

Studies on websites have shown that, much like the on-hold music and accompanying messages on DMV’s phone line, the graphical progress indicators mitigate the negative effects of waiting, and prolong the user’s attention on your website.

In cases where the computer cannot provide fairly immediate response, continuous feedback should be provided to the user in form of a percent-done indicator [Myers 1985]. As a rule of thumb, percent-done progress indicators should be used for operations taking more than about 10 seconds.

One of the problems of a countdown timer only is that:

  • Even if you've tested the performance for loading an app, you don't have control over the users connection.
  • If the timer is wrong due to connection or performance issues, you now have the user doubting the integrity of the system. They will not believe the system.

I don't have any research on app installs (someone please post if you do), but I haven't seen any app installs where it only shows a timer. Usually for app installs (and downloads)

Try modeling on app installs and download best practices

You could try some combo of a percentage bar with an estimation, like mac downloads, or how chrome shows a visual indicator, the transfer amount, plus an estimation (and percentage).

enter image description here

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NOTE: I do realize that the difference with downloads is that the user can still browse/do work, whereas app installs means your app is totally unavailable. I use this model for the different attributes it displays. :)


My initial feeling is that a countdown timer makes the user immediately focus on how long the wait is, rather than the progress being made to get past the wait. A countdown is going to consistently feel like the amount of time it's counting down. A progress bar can be made to feel like somewhat less time.

My questions would be focused around whether you can bring any value to your users during that minute of loading. Are there any tips about using the product you can turn into a kind of slideshow as the progress bar moves forward? Any interesting quotes related to the work users are doing with the product? In the end when users are being asked to always wait 1 minute to get into the product, they'll start using that time for other things. But there may be ways to make that minute somewhat more enriching, and make them less likely to be annoyed at the wait time.

Here's an interesting article I came across about some of this. https://medium.com/swlh/the-illusion-of-time-8f321fa2f191

  • To clarify the context: Think of this system like a computer. When you turn it on there is a process it goes through in order to begin working properly. In my case, it's a series of fans, Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 16:45

Your approach is better for your specific case. For any apps that takes a relatively long time to load, you should show the percentage. Showing time left is quite uncertain. Just take a look at those horrible dialog boxes where they say: time left: 1 min. Then 45 seconds later: Time left: 15 minutes. Some time after that: Time left: 5 seconds. Then a few minutes later: time left: 2 days. . This is not an exaggeration, this is quite common in downloads or when you're installing something and there's a problem.

So, what you're dealing with is named user expectation:

User Expectations can be defined as expectations concerning a product, service or a digital asset. When users use apps, websites, or software, they have different expectations about the product itself and its associated usage, which is reflected in the dialog design, user guidance, and achievement of goals. Users have very different expectations. This includes the click of a button, the need for information, or an aesthetically consistent design that can also be accessed on mobile devices.

And your particular case is explained in this great article by Nick Babich: Progress Indicators in Mobile UX Design (it doesn't apply to mobile only!)

Users Expectations = Default loading icons (like the iOS spinner of gray lines radiating from a central point) tend to have negative connotations. They serve a variety of operating system functions, indicating the status of everything from device boot to problems connecting to network or loading a data. Because of that, people don't like to see only a loading spinner with no indication of progress or time.


Percent-Done Animation

Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits. Percent-done progress indicators are the most informative type of wait-animation feedback. They show the current progress, how much has already been accomplished, and how much is left. A percent-done indicator makes users understand how fast the action is being processed.

As a general rule you should use percent-done animation for actions that take 10 seconds or more.

So there you go!


A minute is a long time for nowadays standards. So I'd recommend to explain the user what is going on, so they understand this is happening for a reason. For example:

  1. Loading the foo (Completed)
  2. Fizzbuzzing the foo (Completed)
  3. Applying foo to foobar (43% Done)

This is also explained in the same article, see image:

enter image description here

the last point in that article could be of interest for you as well:

To ensure people don’t get bored while waiting for something to happen, offer them some distraction. This can be something fun, something unexpected or anything else that catches your users’ attention long enough for your app to load. Fine animations can distract your visitors and make them ignore long loading times.


While loading times are uncertain and usually inaccurate, loading percentages are always correct. You can also mix approaches and show loading percentage AND an estimated time AND steps (with percentage and time), which would cover all bases

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