Responsiveness, or the lack thereof

If you’ve installed the new “Windows Live Messenger,” have you noticed how terrible it is? It’s unresponsive. I often click on its icon in the tray and then wait and wait … sometimes I have to wait as long as five seconds before I get any indication that it noticed my clicks. In the meantime I’ve usually clicked like mad on the thing in case the first click didn’t work. It’s frustrating. I’m a long-time Microsoft IM user, and this lagginess has driven me away from the product. I’m looking into alternative IM clients like Trillian. And the only reason is that I hate having to wait to see if it’s working.

I feel the same way when playing a game. I hate it when nothing happens!

  • When the game starts, does it do nothing while it’s loading? Does it display a big black screen for five seconds, leaving me to wonder if the game blew up my monitor?
  • When I click a button in the game, does the button graphic change so that it actually looks like it’s been pressed? Or is it just a static unresponsive bitmap?
  • When changing the volume slider knob, does the game not play a sound to help me judge whether I’ve got the volume at the right spot?
  • Does the game not care that I have my mouse buttons reversed because I’m left handed? If so, it interprets my left clicks as right clicks, and right clicks don’t make buttons work. So what I get is this: click, click, click, “Hmm, it’s not working. Is it broken, or just laggy?” Either way, the game sure didn’t impress!

The number one rule of thumb when designing anything for the computer, be it games or anything else, is that it has to feel responsive! In fact, if your program is responsive at all times, we’ll assume it’s fast. The sad truth is that a program can be slow as hell behind the scenes, as long as it reacts swiftly to our input.

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