Writing Loading Messages
No one likes waiting. Even in the ultra-fast tech world, patience wears thin. Jakob Nielsen noted that a waiting time of 0.1 seconds feels instantaneous, while just 1 second of loading is a noticeable delay. If a screen takes 10 seconds to load, the user’s already left.
To wait is to give up control. It is the doctor who holds the power to call you back, the website that disperses information, the politician who makes a statement by showing up late. It’s never pleasant, even if we’re waiting for something good.
In the world of UX, designers and developers have implemented a lot of “solutions” for wait time. If the time itself can’t be shortened, the user needs to know that what they’re waiting for is actually happening and, in longer cases, how long they’ll need to wait. If the wait will last awhile, they should have the ability to perform other tasks in the interval.
But what about when the wait is only a few seconds: enough to be noticed, but not enough to change the flow? Enter the loading spinner.
Though varying in design, they almost always are accompanied by text. Some websites just let us know what’s happening (“Loading…”) while others provide direction (“Please wait…”). Others give estimates (“This should take less than 1 minute”).
It’s such a small microcopy decision, but the text on a site’s loading pages can have a huge impact on the overall UX, as well as the tone and voice of your company.
Remember, UX writing is meant to prevent frustration and provide a smooth transition from point A to point B. Waiting isn’t going to be a happy experience, but it can be improved by following a few rules.
Don’t blame anyone
This means you and the user. I’ve seen more and more loading icons popping up accompanied by text along the lines of “Sorry! We’re really slow today…” Though this is honest and trying to be playful, it’s not the appropriate time. Calling attention to the fact that things aren’t as fast as they could be isn’t helping anyone.
Blaming the user (“You made so many changes, it’ll take a bit to save these”) just casts blame in the opposite direction. Imagine being in that doctor’s office again and being told “Well, you have so much wrong with you, the doctor needs time to mentally prepare.”
Obviously, if the loading is caused by a clear issue such as a weak internet connection, it’s okay and even helpful to point out a possible solution. But in the case of normal loading, or loading that’s taking a bit longer than usual, blame doesn’t need to make an appearance.
Don’t be funny
Unless you work for a company that prides itself on tongue-in-cheek copy, don’t use the loading spinners as a canvas for your wit. The design tool Sketch used to have a waiting message along the lines of “preparing the food for cooking.” Cute, but Sketch has nothing to do with the culinary world. It doesn’t fit.
That said, some sites do it well. Slack allows company admins to customize their loading messages; some show inspirational quotes about productivity on its loading screens, while others highlight their company’s main objectives. Chrome shows a little dinosaur that can be made to jump over obstacles while you wait. But, again: if you go down this route, make sure it fits with your brand.
Don’t be vague
UX writing is about communicating the right information, in the right amount, in the right place. Sometimes just “Loading…” is enough. But if there’s room to add value, why not take advantage? Why say loading when you can say loading contact list or loading notifications? This gives users the extra assurance that they’re waiting for the right thing.
Life happens in waiting rooms and lines, in those in-between moments. Let’s make them a little brighter.