Designing for Long Waits and Interruptions: Mitigating Breaks in Workflow in Complex Application Design
7 min read
fairly difficult
5 guidelines help users tolerate the long waits and frequent interruptions that are typical of complex workflows.
Users of complex applications are frequently interrupted during their workflows, starting a task only to have to wait an extended period of time before completing it. These long waits occur for a variety of reasons — for example, the system may need a substantial amount of time to process a request (e.g., run a model, query a database) or the user may need additional information from external sources before proceeding and be forced to wait while information is gathered and before the task can be resumed.

Regardless of circumstance, adhering to the following 5 guidelines can mitigate the frustration that complex-app users experience during long waits or interruptions in their workflows:

Clearly indicate progress completed and time or steps remaining Contextualize success-dialog messages with additional details Enable user-generated notes and comments within the system Provide access to historical content Allow lengthy processes to run in the background

The rest of this article provides additional details and examples for each of these guidelines.

1. Clearly Indicate Progress Completed and Time or Steps Remaining

Users of complex applications often analyze large data sets, run complex models, or query robust information sources — all processes that take a substantial amount of system-processing time. During these relatively long waits, visibility of system status is particularly important, meaning that the user should be provided with feedback about what is happening within a reasonable amount of time.

Because it's common for processing times in complex applications to be relatively long (at least compared to everyday online activities such as adding an item to a shopping cart), complex-app users benefit from a detailed information about what is happening during system processing and where they stand relative to the end of the process. Progress indicators that provide details such as time elapsed (or steps completed) and time or steps remaining make long waits…
World Leaders In Research-Based User Experience, Kate Kaplan
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