It’s amazing how the ‘little things’ can often make the biggest impact on the end user experience. Example: when you ask your software to do something, you want a visual indicator or feedback dialog to let you know how that request is being processed.

Imagine submitting a order request on your favorite shopping website and not getting a response back. Did they accept my order? Will I get my book? Did they take my money?

It’s no different when you push a hard button in a software program. If a transaction is processing, show me a little throbber that work is actually being done.

If you are re-establishing a connection, show me that you are doing so (thank you LiveMeeting for doing at least one thing correctly.)

These interfaces add warmth to the user experience. It’s really hard to measure the impact these features have in terms of productivity gain, but I believe they do add a lot of confidence and trust with the end user.

Ok, so why aren’t these always available then?

Have you ever read a Marketing Requirements Definition (MRD) or a System Requirements Specification (SRS)? If you’re not a software engineer, these generally dictate the needs you need to fulfill with your widgets/programs/solutions. They go into great detail about what happens when someone does ‘X’ or how wide an input form should be. They rarely dictate how the user interface should make the user experience an awesome fun time.

So the developers concentrate on the mechanics and functionality (which is good!), and then this kind of stuff sometimes gets left for later. Priorities have to be set when you have limited resources. And EVERY project generally has limited resources.

I think this is one aspect of software design that deserves more attention.

Disclaimer: I’m not calling out any particular piece of software.


I'm a Distinguished Product Manager at Oracle. My mission is to help you and your company be more efficient with our database tools.


  1. After seeing way too many throbbers that are lying (I blame java), I no longer trust them. It’s gotten especially bad with blogs that have social networking of various sorts enabled, wordpress or hitwhatever or adservers become the critical path, out of sync with the throbber.

    The warmth throbbers add is my rising blood pressure.

    I think we should call them out. That “Benefits:” one was particularly ironic when first rolled out, with the flash “percentage loaded” sticking forever.

    • JeffS

      It’s not enough to provide one, you’ve also got to be able to provide accurate feedback. A throbber just moves back and forth to indicate activity. Like KITT in Knight Rider – it doesn’t indicate the AMOUNT of work left to be done, that would be a status indicator. I’d also wager the worst offenders come from windows apps in general…but maybe that’s just me.

    • JeffS

      LOL, that’s awesome. Thanks for the chuckle (and the extra page hits!)

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