Setting expectations

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Today we’ve rolled out a new feature that shows how long your test will take to complete. It’s a simple addition to the user interface, but behind the scenes it’s taking live statistical data and adapting it to the specific options you’ve chosen for your test.

It’s part of something we’ve been thinking a lot about recently: setting expectations. We’ve found that under different conditions people have very different expectations. By setting these expectations correctly software can feel faster to the user, even if it’s not.

Expectations for a web application

When you start a test using Litmus, it can take a few minutes to complete. Considering everything that’s happening in the background, (your email being sent, our servers loading your email, generating screenshots, uploading…) a few minutes is pretty quick for that to happen 15+ times. But if you’re simply sitting watching the results screen, even a few minutes can feel like a long wait. A watched pot never boils.

Think about other web applications you’ve used—rarely would you need to wait that long. As a result, we sometimes get feedback from new users that Litmus feels slow. After their first few tests our users begin to adjust their expectations, but it’s that first time experience we wanted to improve.

Expectations for a desktop application

This issue became even more intriguing when we launched Alkaline. Alkaline is a Mac desktop client for Litmus. The user is doing the same task (submitting a test and waiting for the results). The task takes the same time. Yet we got way more feedback that it was slow. Even when their test was completed in less than a minute, some people would still complain it was too slow.

Setting realistic expectations

From this feedback, we learnt that people don’t expect a web app to take more than a few moments to perform a task, and that people expect tasks in a desktop app to be almost instantaneous.

For us that’s a problem. We’re constantly trimming down our test times with system improvements and additional capacity, but our tests will never complete instantly. So, we’re now beginning to set people’s expectations better with small interface improvements like this one. The next version of Alkaline will address this too.

If you’re working on your own products, it’s worth considering if you need to manage your users’ expectations—especially if it’s not obvious how long a task will take.