The Role of Good Progress Bars

For the increasingly complex applications that we deal with on a daily basis, progress bars are an important feature in order to provide users with a constant experience of progression, efficiency and engagement.

After explaining the benefits of progress bars (see above!), Gavin Davies then delves deeper into the topic, looking specifically at the role of progress bars on the Internet.

Providing good (WGet) and bad (Mac OS8) examples of progress bars and describing the technical problems behind certain types, Gavin defines the four criteria of a good progress bar:

  • Accurate – watching a bar fill up gradually only to chug to a halt at around 90% can infuriate all but the most Zen. Worse still on the hair ripping scale are bars that fill up, only to empty and begin anew!
  • Responsive and smooth – the bar should be updated regularly to show that things are still working. […] Research shows that a linear, consistent progress increase is better than the bar jerking around like a malfunctioning robot dancer.
  • Precise – the bar should show an estimate of time remaining, and perhaps other data such as percent or file size remaining so the user knows if he or she should start any long books in the interim.
  • Appropriate – before using a progress bar, consider carefully whether it is appropriate, both in terms of User Experience and technical feasibility.