I am looking to design a site which is going to be fairly image heavy and a question came up about what should we do if the users access it through a a dial up or a really low speed internet connection.

According to the analytics of the placeholder site, most of the users are from urban areas in the United states and should have ideally have high speed internet but should we worry about dial-up users in this case ?

If the answer is Yes,what are the best practices we can utilize from an User experience practice to ensure that users with a dial up speed have a comparable experience with a site which is fairly data heavy.

Edit: A suggestion was made that we should detect the internet connection speeds and hence serve up different image sizes but I am very doubtful about the efficiency of such a method

  • 3
    it all depends on the purpose of the site and your target audience.
    – DA01
    Dec 12, 2012 at 7:02
  • 1
    ...and where in the world your target audience lives...
    – PhillipW
    Dec 12, 2012 at 10:56

5 Answers 5


Some sites allow people choose between different versions of the site they want, one tailored for faster connections (AKA "broadband") and one for slower connections (AKA "dial-up"). I would default to the heavier "broadband" version because that's the majority but allow easy switching to the lighter version before any large data servings.

Then make the light version's data as light as possible, with as minimal added markup as you can get away with.

I just watched this video presentation today about github's problems with serving very large pages and some of the solutions they came up with. Not exactly the same problem as yours but you might get some ideas for cutting the fat.


The question really is about fast vs. slow connections, which you will have to deal with. In many places mobile connection speeds are comprable to dialup, and considering the number of people on mobile connections, you should have some option for them.

Just serve the mobile version of your website to customers on slow connections, but give them the option to use the 'normal' site. You do have a mobile version, right?

  • 6
    I agree with your answer from the angle of "the only slow connections you have to worry about anymore are mobile connections", but humor me: I get how you can serve mobile sites to mobile users because you can detect the browser width. How do you detect "slow"? Dec 12, 2012 at 1:05
  • @RachelKeslensky that is a good technical question suitable more for Stack Overflow than here. That said, I can think of a passable solution but nothing as nice as media queries.
    – JohnGB
    Dec 12, 2012 at 1:24
  • 1
    @RachelKeslensky: Actually that comment is a little naive. Some people - especially in rural areas - still are cursed with speeds well below 512kbps. Should these people be punished with a page that (usually) looks stupid on a pc?
    – Shadow
    Dec 12, 2012 at 3:20
  • 3
    Next you'll be telling me I should still account for IE6 users too? It's not that I don't believe those folks exist, but I imagine that there's so few of them (compared to straight-up mobile users) that both have dialup AND a big enough screen to appreciate a wider site that accounting for them is an exercise in futility. Dec 12, 2012 at 3:56
  • I think this is a really bad idea! A mobile version is designed for the mobile...and as @shadow says why would you just serve this to anyone on a low data speed? And for some companies yes it is very important to account for IE6 users. Many governmental organisations have bespoke browser based software that's extremely old and they haven't yet invested in upgrading it. If you deal with these kind of people then for sure you would need to ensure a good website in IE6. Ultimately it depends on your user base! Dec 12, 2012 at 23:33

I have no data to back it up, but I think if the majority of your users are in the area where high speed internet are common, you don't have to worry too much about it. As others have said, it all depends on your target audiences.

but, if you feel the need to do something for the users with slow internet connection, here is an Oatmeal comic that illustrate my point. Slow service is more annoying than no service.


I'd suggest making sure that the non-image content is readable. For example, if your design had white text over dark images, make sure that there is also a dark background color specified in the code so that the text would still be visible even if the image hadn't loaded yet. Similarly, make sure any text content is actually text (for example, don't make headlines or call-to-action buttons solely images). And of course, optimize images and code as much as possible to keep K-size low. But honestly, this kind of stuff would be good practice anyway regardless of catering specifically to lower-speed connections.


Yes - if only because designing with the constraint of producing at least an acceptable experience for dial up users will force you to innovate in a way that you previously would not, and therefore result in a fantastic experience for high speed broadband users.

  • But what if this constraint makes them compromise on the UI? For broadband users, is a lightning-fast experience on a mediocre UI preferable to a normal-speed experience on a great UI? I think not :) Dec 12, 2012 at 11:50
  • 1
    No of course not :-) I'm saying that designing within constraints helps to innovate in a way that may create a better experience, not compromise with a worse one. Dial up users deserve equal consideration. Dec 12, 2012 at 12:05
  • Constraints breed innovation Dec 12, 2012 at 12:07
  • I'm sure that for every innovation bred by constraints, there are a hundred poor designs bred by them :). But yes, when tackled by the right people, constraints can lead to great solutions. Dec 12, 2012 at 12:15
  • 1
    Ah well, without that we wouldn't have the joy of citing Sturgeon's Law every now and then! Dec 12, 2012 at 12:21

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