I'm making a simple progress bar based on the amount of minutes a user has spent, and the amount of minutes she's required to spend on a certain task. See below for an example.

enter image description here

I'm considering 3 options for the label:

  1. Percentage (75%).
  2. Number of minutes completed versus required (45/60min).
  3. Both of the above.

Providing the minutes gives a better feeling of how much actual time still needs to be spent, whereas the percentage give a clearer feeling of the relative progress. Note that the required amount of minutes (60 min) is also communicated on other places, not just in this label.

Which of the above options will be most informative for my users, without showing unnecessary information?

In addition, I noticed that Khan Academy is using both % finished and x/xx skills completed, with emphasis on %. (See below)

enter image description here

  • It looks cleaner with the time ticker only. If you're using both I would suggest giving the percentage a different typography to visually differentiate between the two. Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 12:19
  • @AndroidHustle, Thanks, you're right, but my question is not about the styling or design, but about the elements of information that I should present. If I choose to show both, I'll definitely change the final design.
    – JacobF
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 12:41

6 Answers 6


My honest opinion is that the time spent / total time label is enough, and that also adding the percentage is redundant information.

So why do I think that, especially considering Khan Academy has both a Done / Total label + a percentage label? The answer is in what differentiates your two scenarios. In your design you have a progress bar which doesn't exist in the benchmark (Khan), the progress bar will give instant visual feedback regarding how much is done and how much remains.

The user will be interested to know whether she's done less than half the time, half the time or more than half the time, a quick glance will tell her that instantly. For more high resolution feedback the user can see the time label, to get actual feedback of how much time remains. Adding a percentage label on top of this won't give any additional value, instead it will add to the visual bulk and cognitive load.

So in summary, you already provide enough feedback to only display the time label.

  • 2
    I like that you point out that the progress bar offers roughly the same information as the percentage, which therefore makes the %-number redundant. Would you say that in other cases, showing any % label at all with progress bars is redundant as well?
    – JacobF
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 14:24
  • @jvannistelrooy I'd say that feedback of progress won't benefit from more than one Done / Total label, whether that be the actual amount (applicable in the Khan scenario) or a percentage (applicable in for example an installation with possibly billions of events) depends on the situation. However, if there's a scenario where the value translated into a percentage is valuable (some professional environment I imagine) one could consider providing both. Here however I see no actual value in being presented with a variety of progress indicators. Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 14:36

If I'm in class and staring down the clock until I can leave then I have zero desire to know how much time I've spent in there. All I care about is how many minutes till X o'clock.

With the psychology stated above I think the most beneficial piece of information you can give is Time remaining: 17 minutes and update this as time passes.

I think that if you are dead-set on creating some sort of bar then make then fill the bar (full orange) upon page load and as Time Remaining decreases then you should decrease (more white) the bar accordingly.

  • 2
    I haven't yet considered the option to show "minutes remaining", but I like that very much. However, I think that a bar that fills up feels more like reaching a goal than a bar that decreases. How the bar should work probably depends on the emotion that the user has with "spending minutes".
    – JacobF
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 10:18
  • This scenario is not about "progress", but a "countdown". I think that's why there's a difference in which part of the bar should be filled. Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 12:18

Both indicators have pros and cons, but probably using only the ratio puts the highest cognitive burden on the user as math processing might be involved. So why not play safe and use both? Specially when you can get away with it without penalising your design.

enter image description here

  • 1
    I quite like this, but for some reason found it really distracting that the percentage doesn't even remotely match up with the done/total values.
    – Vala
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 8:32
  • I like this as well. What is your opinion about the argument that the bar itself already provides a relative measurement, which makes the percentage kind of obsolete?
    – JacobF
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 9:38
  • @jvannistelrooy, while it is true there is a certain redundancy in having both, doing so can also be useful in certain situations specially for people with low numeracy.
    – Jay Mann
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:17
  • @Thor84no. Sorry about the percentage. What a slip. I'll fix it later.
    – Jay Mann
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 15:19

It depends on your intent.

In the Khan Academy's example you provided, I believe emphasis is on the percentage specifically cause it is more abstract. For someone trying to complete something, being 50% of the way looks more positive than being 100/200, it may feel like less work to be done.

Now if you think about a download progress UI, I as a user would rarely ever look at percentages, cause all I care for is how long will it take for me to be able to use whatever I'm downloading.

  • 1
    ..."being 50% of the way looks more positive than being 100/200," - is this the case though? This may just be your subjective perception of things, but it may be that some studies conducted on a variety of people find that it's the reverse.
    – JonW
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 13:11

It depends of how slow is your system.

Have a look about this good article of Norman Group.


Progress bar has 3 goals : - 1- helps user to say him the system is alive. As heart rythme - 2- helps user to know "around how many time" he has to wait - 3- and finally make a distraction to help the system to seem less slow it is. Important for user satisfaction.

Sometime you give just information "step x of y" sometimes you give percentage information. Rarely real time because the user knows perfectly what is 15 min or 40min or 1 hour and it can be really bad for the feeling of the user about the app. The risk is you underline the slowness of the system.

And if for any reason, it will be slower than ypu indicatot the user will not trust your app anymore.

Do you remember time information with massive copy files in Windows XP ....sometimes you see 5 minutes and a secondlater you see 190min....do you trust this informatio ?

So inform to help user but be carful not to lie him too much precise information which can be wrong.

And not to forget some design pattern prefer to show positive message by displaying how many step the usr r has to wait and not how many the system has already done. Example : Rather "Just 3 last steps and it is OK" than "system has done 120/123 step"

  • While this is not completely clear from my question, the minutes in my progress bar relate to the work that the user has to do, not the work that my software has to do. It's not waiting time, but a indicator of the user's progress.
    – JacobF
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 10:14
  • I put a new answer there was not enough place in comment field ;-) Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 17:48

OK sorry for the mistake. To answer your real issue some elements. If you display time be sure it is a real average time make test with several users or better if possible calculate dynamically average time by record each user stage. You can even take in account the percent he is speeder or slower to calculate a real personal average time. and mandatory precise your users it is average time. In other words don't afraid them or stress them with time they can't reach because there are experts who go very fast. The same constraints than my first reply : it depends of the context. If there are only 15 questions (this cursor is an example) or steps the user is OK and ready to go forward. If there are 100 questions displaying him 2/100 can afraid him and 2℅ can also afraid him and with 5 minutes by step 500 minutes will sure afraid him. One of the solution is also in "natural langage" like "Whaou you have reach the tenth question in 12 min. Again approximatively 45 min and it is finish !" or imagine virtual prices the user can win with group of steps like a stage in game of car races. So when there is not a lot of steps number/total is easier to understand plus around workload time to finish. when there is more steps percent is easier to understand and will less afraid plus workload time...and finally if there are too much questions split them in groups and use number or percent plus workload time and prices.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.