Picked up this post by Harry Brignull on the great blog, 90 percent of everything.

The discussion stems from a article on locksmiths and how they can open doors within seconds but actually go through a slow, theatrical act of ‘solving’ the lock, which increases customer satisfaction and gets them bigger tips.

The logic is sound, Dan Ariely sums it up perfectly by saying:

What this tells is that consumers don’t value goods and services solely by their utility, benefit from the service, but also a sense of fairness relating to how much effort was exerted.

Believe or not you can find the same logic in apps, services and user interfaces that you are using today. Complex actions are done almost instantly by servers and computers, so why do companies add a artificial delay? Here’s one example on Blogger.com:

One of the things they found in user testing was that when new users clicked “Create my Blog” on the last step of the setup process, they were confused at how quickly their blog was created. “That’s it? Is something wrong?” were the types of things people said. So they added an interstitial “Creating your blog…” type page that did nothing but spin a little animated gif and wait a few seconds before sending new users to the “Yay, your blog is created! page”. Users were far more satisfied with the new experience that took longer.

It poses the question: Is it right or wrong to purposefully add a delay to a service or user interface?

Harry makes the valid point that adding a delay to a UI is wrong and ‘involves pandering to consumers’ incorrect mental models rather than helping them understand the reality of the situation’. You would expect that eventually the user will learn that whatever they are doing is instant and build trust in that process.

He is right, you are effectively being dishonest, but on the whole I disagree that it is wrong. Humans aren’t perfect and sometimes you need to create imperfect experiences to move forward.

I’ve been part of a few projects where we’ve added a artificial delay because users were attempting to go back to redo certain parts as they didn’t believe in the speed that we had actually collected the information and processed it. You are left with the option of losing/frustrating customers or adding a few second delay (with a little spinny wheel, whatever) so they know something is happening and chillout.

There is nothing sinister intended, it’s all done to produce better results and make things clearer for the user. And believe me this stuff happens a LOT in apps.

It also works the other way, I’ve known apps to use a static low quality screenshot of the main menu as the loading page to give the impression of a faster load!