How design can make a website feel faster

When aiming for conversions, site speed is key. But there are things you can do that go beyond the technical, explains Gene Crawford.

A lot has been written lately about speeding up your website by fine-tuning the backend, as well as tweaking the HTML and CSS for better formatting and performance. This is extremely important for a lot of obvious reasons.

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Mostly we worry about this sort of thing for business reasons – we want conversions. The faster the website loads in the browser, the faster the user can sign up, or make a purchase. This is one benefit to being fast. But another side of things that I've been noticing lately is an aim to 'look' fast.

How to find performance

There are things you can do to make a web page appear fast that go beyond the purely technical. For example, the way you align the fields of a sign-up form, or the number of fields, can impact a person's perception of the form.

The difference between horizontal or vertical alignment can make a form look faster to complete. The strategic utilisation of animation can also sell the idea of something being fast and easy to manipulate.

This is an older screenshot of Tumblr which shows the sign-up form using horizontally placed fields – an attempt to show visually how fast the form is to use.

If the primary element on the page you're designing also contains the main call to action, the faster someone will notice this, and the faster they can act on it. This technically isn't faster in the sense of tracked time, but it can seem faster.

Keeping the user's perception of speed or ease of use in mind as you design can pay dividends. I challenge you to consider this idea of perceived speed as you work through your next design project, and see where it leads you.

Words: Gene Crawford

Gene's mission is to work tirelessly at providing inspiration and insight for developers. His projects include www.unmatchedstyle.com and conferences such as www.convergese.com. This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 261.

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