I'm currently working on an application where users complete a flow of tasks, divided over multiple pages.

For this application, I'm considering using a progress tracking/stepper UI element. However, I'm not convinced of the actual added value of such an element. Does it help the user? Does it increase completion rate? In general, what are its main properties that are of value to the user?

I'm looking for actual, empirical research. I've found numerous articles online, for example:

Progress Trackers in UX Design

Quote: "If you know how many steps you must complete in the process, you’re more likely to complete the process."

Problems with this statement: there is no reference given whatsoever, and empirical evidence suggests this statement lacks some very important nuance (reference).

And this:

Progress Trackers in Web Design: Examples and Best Practices

Quote: "Progress trackers are designed to help users through a multi-step process and it is vital that such trackers be well designed in order to keep users informed about what section they are currently on, what section they have completed, and what tasks remain."

Problems with this statement are the same as the previous article. In addition, it cites three important aspects of a progress indicator: keep user informed of location, what they have completed, and what tasks remain. There is no empirical evidence referenced that (1) shows a progress indicator actually does all of these things and if it does it well; and (2) shows that these three important aspects are actually vital to a good user experience.

So far, I've mainly come across resources where I just have to take these statements at face value. And knowing that some statements lack nuance, or might simply be incorrect, it seems unwise as well as defeating the purpose of well-informed UX design to just assume they are true and implement them.

My question, now: can someone point me in the right direction of actual, empirical research or proper, structured analysis of progress tracker/stepper/indicator UI elements and their actual benefits/drawbacks/effects?

So far, I've looked at:

- http://uxpajournal.org/
- https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/journal/behaviour-and-information-technology
- https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hhci20/current#.UhO5Hj_-S3M
- https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/interacting-with-computers/vol/24/issue/6
- https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hihc20/current#.UhO7dD_-S3M
- https://journals.sagepub.com/home/hfs

But these pages are pretty hard to search, and terms such as progress, progress indicator and the likes don't turn up much useful information...

3 Answers 3


There are a number of general principles that support the use of a progress tracker:

1- Visibility of system status - One of the 10 usability heuristics of Don Norman. By using a progress tracker, you inform the user on the number of steps in a complex process and where they're up to.

2- Completion or closure principle in psychology: simply getting that last green check mark might be enough to motivate some users to complete the process.

3- Neuroscience: completing a process is a series of mini-decisions. To make a decision, a person needs to know what to expect as a result of their action (Gain/Loss function in Bayesian Decision Theory).


I'm unable to share the research but in my testing the wizards I've created or had to support if the steps are less than 6, and the form complexity less than say 5 fields each generally the experience was helpful. Especially if the task is a communicative one where the user has to share where he's at with his co-workers/managers. There is a cliff you will find where too much add anxiety.

Drawbacks that I wanted to share though is in the future enhancement with wizards/steps is every new feature or new thing turns into a new 'step' what starts as a 1,2,3 over time could turn into a 1,2,3,5,6,7,8 if not careful.


Currently in the work I am in, we have designed several flows of 2 to 6 steps for the banking sector and we have used a progress tracking that has worked very well, our users (who are not customers) feel comfortable knowing in how many steps will complete the entire flow until the goal is completed, since they use these applications many times a day they have become completely familiar with it

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