The Color of Speed


Three seconds does not always equal three seconds. Our perception of time is greatly skewed by a variety of seemingly unrelated factors, making it easy for us to perceive 3 seconds as 5 seconds, or as 1 second. Since ultimately it is how fast the user thinks our site is that matters, regardless what the stats say, we need to be very aware of these extraneous factors that influence their perception.

One such factor is color. Different hues, values and saturation levels can all influence how a person perceives time. Typically, this can be linked to how “relaxed” or “stressed” a user feels during the wait. The more relaxed they feel, the shorter the wait will feel. It’s entirely possible that a stressed user may feel as though a site is very slow, while a relaxed user may feel that same site is very responsive.

So how do we induce a feeling of relaxation using color? For starters, we can choose blue hues as they elicit the most relaxed feeling state. In sharp contrast, yellow and red hues generate more excitement and thus, more stress. Red is particularly concerning since it also induces a feeling of avoidance and failure, further increasing the level of stress.

Another important consideration is the saturation level of a given color. Users who view low saturation colors have been shown to be in a more relaxed state than those who view a highly saturated color. This effect is particularly emphasized in environments where contrasts are intense – like computer screens.

Finally, we should consider the value of colors. Pastel colors (high value) result in a more relaxed state, and therefore a shortened perception of time, than lower value colors (darker colors).

Using this knowledge, we can create designs that inherently imply a fast, responsive experience to the user. By no means is this a replacement for taking the time to fine-tune the performance of your site. If used in conjunction with performance optimization techniques, however, you can further optimize the experience of your users by providing them with a site that feels as responsive as the stats say it is.