Why old software habits are hard to break

New Car
Modern software applications are increasingly adding their ‘fake engine noise’, a superfluous element to reassure it’s users. Can we evolve our expectations?

When Jeep owners became disappointed by the lack of roar in their new vehicles, the cleaner engines of modern hybrid vehicles delivering only a quiet rumble, manufacturers needed to add an artificial ‘loud engine noise’. This noise did nothing functional, it was just an addition to reassure their customers expectations.

Similar techniques are used where cash machines make a whirring noise to tell users the money is being prepared, or digital cameras make a clicking shutter noise. This technique is starting to find it’s way into software too, as faster systems need to reassure their user’s expectations.



The image above is just that, a static image. And yet, despite being told that, it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is loading and will soon appear. The loading spinner was initially added to a website whilst it slowly loaded results, reassuring the user that something is going on, the cogs are turning. But when faster software are able to quickly retrieve information and display results, users become suspicious that it was a little too quick.

To stop the user doubting the reliability of search results or intricacy of functions, some sites are now adding a few seconds of extra delay with a loading spinner, to give the user added confidence. Google even experimented with this on their search results. It’s the engine noise again, play-acting the role of a slow website. And with faster UI packages enabling developers to carry out many front-end functions without loading, a great deal of slowdown will increasingly become artificial.

Changing our process

The issue of keeping an application as fast as it can be without confusing users is a problem for user experience design. Some sites will give notification popups and segment the screen, giving users a constant feedback about what’s going on. Sometimes there is a load time, so the spinners are here to stay for the foreseeable future, and sadly people will take time to get used to fast results before it can deliver the same amount of trust.

This is an emerging issue for software development, but hopefully one that will pass as users become more comfortable with instant load on websites. Creating a clear dialogue for users to understand how an application is working is a fundamental aspect of good quality software design. For now, beware the ‘fake engine noise’ on those loading spinners.


One thought on “Why old software habits are hard to break

  1. I heard an excellent example of this from Visa, where user research last year found that if a payment processed within milliseconds the user got very suspicious that the payment had in fact been taken. An optimal delay of 7 seconds of spinning was introduced to make the user believe that the ‘lengthy’ payment processing had happened.

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